5 December 2010

Scriptchat: Should you respect all critics?

#Scriptchat is a Twitter session where scriptwriters get together to talk. Tonight I took part for the first time.

Tonight’s #scriptchat was a Q&A with Writer’s Avenue - a London-based theatre company that focuses on developing new writers.

During the chat this comment appeared from Paul Bassett Davies (Twitter moniker @thewritertype). Davies is a Liverpool-based screenwriter and script reader.
thewritertype#scriptchat You don't have to like or respect the person giving you feedback. Their value is that they are not you.
I think this statement is nearly all correct, except on one point.

TRUE: Liking a critic isn’t necessary
Receiving criticism from someone is a unpleasant, if it’s negative. But the more crushingly negative feedback is, the better. So long as it is constructive feedback.

So if you find someone criticizing your work who you detest on a personal level, you may disregard what they say. But that is your weakness, not them.

Just because you don’t like a person does not make their criticisms invalid. You should judge their comments as any you would anyone else’s.

Being a professional screenwriter will require you to collaborate with people you dislike. If you’re not prepared to deal with this situation, give up now.

TRUE: A critic’s value is that they are not you
Getting someone to read your work is vital, because they are not you.

When your script is ready for reading, you should know your script, story, plot and characters forwards, backwards, sideways and inside out. This is also a weakness, because it can blind you to problems.

Your brain will fill in the blanks in the story, because you know information no reader or viewer will know.

A new reader will come to your work ignorant and naïve. They will be able to spot where your story falls down, or a character doesn’t make sense, because they do not know what the next line holds or what you “meant to say”.

If a scene doesn’t make sense to a new reader, or a character isn’t believable, it isn’t because the reader didn’t understand what you meant. It’s because you’re writing’s failed in it’s task.

FALSE: Respecting a critic isn’t necessary
Here’s the point I strongly disagree with.

You should only request feedback from those people whose work you respect.

Whether they are song writers, playwrights, screenwriters, or a novelist, the people whose work you respect are the ones you should turn to for advice.

Respect also means that you trust them. You need to trust these people to not spread your work around, or bad mouth it behind your back. But also that they will give you honest feedback - even if it’s stuff you don’t want to listen to or hear from.

This is independent from liking the person. If you find a particular screenwriter personally loathsome, but they produce excellent screenplays, listen to what they’re telling you.

This only applies to when you ask someone for an opinion. You will get plenty of notes from people you neither respect or like, but will have listen to them, and act on their notes.

At a minimum people you don’t respect or like are still your audience. And that means their input is valid.

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