How to Know Your Script Doesn’t Suck. Maybe we never really know if our screenplay is excellent. It’s a subjective process. But one thing you should make sure of before you send your work out into the world… don’t suck. There’s a lot of road between a good script and terrible one.
Before you endeavor to not suck, suck. We’ve all written terrible stuff. It’s part of the deal. I’m writing a first draft right now that’s pretty lousy in some places and is okay in others and sort of awesome in about three spots. I think. I’m not sure yet. And that’s the fun part.
I embrace the suckage and uncertainty as it allows me to be free. I get to suck for a while and then I rewrite and rewrite and it gets better. Hopefully. The goal is to create the best possible draft I can before I send it out for notes and feedback. And then to rewrite again, depending on the notes. How will I know it’s good?
Maybe you’ve gotten to a point where you can tell if a script is solid enough to share. If not, there are ways to help you get there.
GET TRUSTED FEEDBACK
There are many resources where you can get feedback, but do be choosy about who you show your work to. Bad feedback is dangerous. Or at the very least, a waste of your time.
I am always cautious telling writers to show their work to other writers. Sometimes it is good. However, only in a general sense, other unproduced writers may not be qualified. Yes, they know their own story and genre but may not possess the insight to give meaningful input.
Now if you are fortunate enough to know a produced writer that’s very different and if you can seek out that person’s input, I would strongly suggest an approach.
Should you show it to a friend or a partner? Depends. I don’t know about showing it to friends who aren’t writers or other types of filmmakers. I’ve found that although my non-filmmaker friends are awesome, they don’t usually give real feedback I can use.
You can also send your script to coverage services but that’s a mixed bag. Sometimes notes are good. Other times notes can be confusing.
I don’t say this to be self-serving, but you will find many reliable script consultants at the International Screenwriters Association (ISA). The main message here as I’ve said many times, get input from a professional (Producer, Agent, Consultant) in the industry.
You can also ask other writer friends to recommend a reader. A good reader is hard to come by. Treat him or her well. Pay them what they’re worth. Maintain that relationship. They can be essential in your career.
To Take the Note or Not Take the Note
Once you get those notes, don’t be afraid of them. But don’t just guzzle the Kool-Aid and change things up. Take the time to process them. Ask yourself if the notes will make your script better, more compelling, addictive, consumable? Does it feel right? Be honest as you can be with yourself.
If you’ve got the time, try incorporating the feedback and see how it plays. If you don’t like it, scrap it.
Sometimes a small note makes a huge difference. I got a subtle note from a writer and not only did it make that particular script 10 times better, it changed the way I offer my critique to a certain degree.
Read Your Script Out Loud
You can do this before you send it out for notes. But definitely re-read after your changes. Get a friend to sit and read with you. Or read it to yourself. At some point, you may want to record the read. Audio, video, whatever you want. But then listen to it. Maybe take a walk and listen to it away from your desk or wherever you write.
Does it flow? Entertain? Bore? Seem jarring? Take a day or two and listen to it again.
Take Some Time Between Drafts
You really should know to step away. The draft can grow drearier if you dive rite into a second draft immediately. Maybe it’s a few days or a month. But never really beyond that. Unless you are writing on deadline and you have someone breathing down your neck. Well, that’s a whole other article.
Whatever you do, have confidence that your script is ready for the market. The number 2 mistake new writers make is sending a script out that’s not ready for the market. Your script will blow up if you hand over something you had worked on a lot but hadn’t taken the time to get any real feedback.
There are many cases where someone can work connections to get the script into the right hands. But if the screenplay is rough, no one will have time for you once they looked at the first few pages and is forgotten before they ordered lunch.
Here’s another cautionary tale…not my experience. Someone else tells this true story
I met a newbie writer who had just written her very first screenplay. A friend told me that the story was brilliant. The idea was based on a relative of the writer’s who engaged in a real life crime that is almost too good to be true. She had gold in her hands.
She gave this script to me and wanted honest feedback. Now, my thing is to never be unkind. There are too many jerks in the world. I don’t need to add to that. But I do want to be constructive. It’s tricky, though, when something blows. And, man oh man, this thing was a stinker. It barely made sense.
I dreaded sitting down with her because I wanted to give her something constructive to work with. I finally came up with some notes that were hopefully something she could use, but ending with suggesting that she take a few more passes at it.
I wanted to start out very gently and then work up to the bigger issue. I was carefully wading into the first note when she cut me off and was appalled that I didn’t love her word garbage. She was making this face like she was getting bad cell phone service while she began to turn bright red and bash my half-said innocuous note. Uh, nope.
I immediately stopped talking. This wasn’t my first rodeo and one of my biggest peeves is when someone wastes my time. She was a friend of a friend, this writer. And I learned once again to get a better sense of someone before reading their work. So shame on me. But she really needed to learn some manners. This is not how you take a note, even if you vehemently disagree with it. Especially if this is your very first screenplay and you’re brand new at the game. I mean, I gave her a very nearly-nothing note and was kind of shocked to see her fall to pieces.
The kicker of the silly/frustrating encounter was that she informed me that she’d already taken it around town to some fairly large production companies. Meaning, she had mailed it off to the addresses of top companies and hadn’t heard a thing. But she was proud of the fact that she had gotten her stuff “out there” to the big dogs and who was I?
She felt that simply typing 125 pages of nonsense was enough work. I don’t wish her ill. Maybe we’ll see her big caper on the screen one day. Maybe she learned. Maybe she didn’t. We’ll never know.
Make sure the word on the street is about your writing and not that you’re a world class jerk
Humility is a super power.
Make doubly sure your script is ready for the market. If you are unsure, contact me right away. I offer a free ten minute consultation with absolutely no obligation