One of the most valuable components in the screenwriting process is feedback. Whether you’re writing on spec, submitting a draft to a showrunner, or it’s time for the network to weigh in, getting notes during revisions is inevitable. And that’s a good thing. Because feedback will always make your script stronger.
Even if the feedback is terrible.
Even negative or poor-quality feedback can help you find the heart of your story. The trick is, you have to know how to receive feedback. A good screenwriter should be open to constructive criticism from skilled and…less discerning readers. Learning how and when to apply a note — if at all — is a valuable skill.
As screenwriters, our job is to tell stories to others. Therefore it’s crucial to get feedback from outside sources to learn how your writing is perceived. Feedback is part of the job, so let’s talk about where writers get feedback from and what to do with notes and coverage of all kinds.
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Script feedback from friends
It’s important to be discerning when asking friends and peers to read your script and give notes. As John August (Big Fish, Aladdin) once wrote:
“The screenplay format is so unlike traditional fiction that it’s hard for newcomers to offer much useful feedback. They often can’t distinguish between the strange experience of reading a movie on paper and the story they just read. You may feel a social obligation to let non-screenwriting friends read your work, but don’t plan your rewrite based on their reactions.”
Instead, he urges writers to seek the help of friends and colleagues who are not only familiar with screenplays but are experienced in offering constructive feedback. “Regardless of the genre, a good reader can help a writer see problems and find solutions. More than anything, you want a second smart brain to bounce ideas off of. That’s why you ask people to read your work-in-progress.”
Professional script feedback
Part of your job as a screenwriter is to make professional connections. That means meeting people through writers groups, school or training programs, networking events, and even securing meetings with industry pros. One of your screenwriting career goals should always be to increase your professional network.
If you know an experienced professional willing to read your script and provide feedback, chances are they will be able to give you notes worthy of your attention. Take advantage of your network of screenwriting and industry professionals to get the focused, detail-oriented feedback your script needs.
Paid script coverage
A great option is to purchase script coverage from a reputable company. Paid readers have experienced providing feedback on character, plot, story development, and even the marketability of your script. Many screenwriting contests have a paid coverage option, so receiving feedback from a coverage service when you submit to a competition can be an opportunity to determine where your screenplay stands against other scripts in the marketplace.
What to do with script feedback
Receiving notes on a script isn’t as easy as it sounds. Notes and negative critiques can feel deeply personal. And unprofessional feedback can expose issues without providing clear solutions. In the worst case scenario, feedback can even be insulting.
There are countless examples of writers who receive high praise from one reader and get completely trashed by another — even within the same company. Some scripts win certain festivals and fail to even place at others. So the first thing to do is remember that feedback is always subjective.
Writers should accept feedback for what it is: The opinion of one person.
If you maintain this perspective, notes become clues. Feedback can draw your attention to parts of your script that need another look or might benefit from a rewrite, regardless of the notes. From there, it’s your job to interpret the note and apply it to serve your story.
How to use feedback during rewrites
Maybe a reader hated one of your characters. That does not mean you have to write out the character. Instead, use this as an opportunity to determine whether you want that character to be hated. If the character is an antagonist, then you might be on the right path. If, however, the antagonist was supposed to be sympathetic, then the note might help you see where you can make adjustments in the character’s dialogue or actions.
Maybe your reader was confused about a scene. The fix could be as simple as clearer action lines or an expositional clue in the dialogue. You might realize that the scene was unnecessary and you can cut it (hooray!). Or maybe it needs a completely different setting. It’s your job to understand the note and get creative with the solution.
Some of the most common script feedback is about dialogue. I always recommend that writers cast experienced actors and host a table read. The dialogue will always play differently when you hear it out loud versus reading it on the page. Your actors might even have insights into your characters that can help your writing.
Script feedback is always valuable
The more experienced and trustworthy your reader is, the more likely it is that you’ll get relevant notes on your screenplay. From there, it’s up to you to interpret the notes and make decisions about how to apply them to your screenplay.
Even if you disagree with a note and you choose to disregard it, you’ll stand stronger in your writing and become more clear about why you’re defending your first instinct. At the end of the day, feedback is a tool for you to wield to make your script stronger.
Learn even more about script feedback with WeScreenplay’s top-notch Coverage packages.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com, and she has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!