Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dude, you're outta the band.

Hollie asks: How you deal with notes...specifically people who give notes in a way that makes you feel like scratching their eyelids out?

Notes are great. But they're just opinions, and you don't have to take them. Never forget that this is YOUR story and you can tell it how YOU want. Sometimes getting too many notes will send you in so many directions that you've got a muddled script that's trying to tell too many stories. Identifying which notes are good and which should be ignored is tough, and takes much practice and thought.

As for the eyelid scratching: Eek. I think you have to wonder if these awful people actually know what they’re talking about and just have a tact problem, or if they’re useless AND have a tact problem. If it’s the former, maybe have a word with them about being professional and polite. This sounds really hard to me as I hate confrontation, but if you think it’s still worth it to hear their notes but you can’t stand the WAY they give the notes, maybe it’s worth asking.

But if all their notes are totally useless, AND the delivery is threatening the safety of your eyelids, why bother getting notes from the person? Lose ‘em. Writing should be fun and rewarding. Tough sometimes, yes, but your eyelids should stay safe at all times. If said Cruel Note Givers part of a larger group that contains cooler, more useful people, maybe you should ask the other members if they feel the same way, and if so, how they'd feel about telling the CNGs, "Dude, you’re outta the band." I’ve never had to do that (as my writing group rocks, and I never really got my shit together enough to start the band). Anybody have any tips?

I do remember classes with people like the ones you mentioned. Honestly, when I get crappy notes – especially in an insulting way – I am most likely to just nod and say okay while daydreaming about sharing a keg with Cappie from Greek.

There’s one thing you might want to keep in mind, though – even if a note seems stupid, it’s coming from somewhere. It might be useful to think about why this person is having this reaction to your material. Are you missing something? Is something confusing?

And, since you mentioned commas...for the record – I happen to love commas. People don't give them enough love. Semicolons really get me going, but commas are hot too.

Bookmark and Share


BR said...

“You CAN use commas” – just useless, snarky feedback. I say: look for trends. If the notes/comments show a real pattern – the dialogue is unconvincing, this or that scene is flat, you have, heaven forbid, a shortage of commas – then, yeah, probably it needs addressing. As for leaving an otherwise good group because of some Tool, I agree with Amanda: check with the others; they may well feel the same way. You’ve enjoyed their artistic company for some reason, after all.

Dave Ale said...

What I do is what Stephen King said to do.

Get notes from several different people. If all of the notes touch upon the same area (ie Jane was unconvincing) then address that area. If one note says (loved John) and the other note says (hated John), you're probably in the right area.

Also, keep in mind that the people who are giving the notes might not like the genre you're writing in, or they might be idjits. Not every note is a good note.

Notes are the screenwriting equivalent of someone test-driving a car you made and telling you it's not sporty enough. You have to figure out why it's not sporty -- doesn't turn on a dime? Design? Not fast enough?

Unless the person is an expert, they're probably not going to be able to fix the problem -- only spot it.

Amy Butler said...

I put a screenplay into a student competition at my uni, and though it didn't win, it was in the top ten, meaning I got some notes back from the judges. I was really excited, ready for the constructive criticism, and was stunned when I sat down and read *three full paragraphs* of nothing but criticism. My characters were weird and uninteresting, my story boring, my plot was paper thin, but perhaps the worst ones of all was when the judge said that she wasn't sure why the reader should care about the characters or why the story was being told.

The criticism was so extreme (for a *student* competition, mind you) that I almost laughed. I mean, clearly I do not think I should have been excessively lauded, but the notes were in no way constructive. I think what happened was that the judge was anticipating one sort of story and read an entirely different one.

However, here's what I did and I think this is useful when asking for notes. I took the comments made by the judges and hammered them into questions I gave readers who had agreed to give me notes. That way I could make sure I got some sort of response on what others had shredded. I specifically talked about the judge's comments with my screenwriting professor, which shed a lot of light and clarity and gave me back some of my self confidence.

So that's one way to deal with supremely negative notes - then you know if it's just you or just them.

BooM said...

In my opinion, notes are a two way street. Take this with a grain of salt, mind you, as I am a Cruel Notes Giverer. I don't know that my comments are useless (at least I hope not), but I give notes in the way that I'd like to receive them: Honest and to the point. Because really, how does "Your font sure is pretty" help?

Anyhoo. I was in a writers' group once and I got kicked outta the band. Only I didn't know I was kicked out, they lied about it. So, when I found out they lied, my feelings were doubly hurt.

What I would have preferred was a conversation, not a confrontation (as you said, no one likes those) that was along the lines of "this is what I need for notes." And then, if what they preferred was "your font is pretty" then I could give them that. Or, if you just can't deal with the person anymore, tell 'em. Honesty is always best, imo.

Though I admit I'm a CNG, part of me thinks: If you don't tell folks what you need how are you going to get it?

Dan Williams said...

Here's my post from yesterday:

Hollie, I hear you. To be able to take criticism about your writing is, like, about the hardest lesson we all have to learn. Thankfully, there are some guidelines.

First, every person is entitled to their own opinion and to express it as they see fit.

Second, if somebody is rude, then it is a reflection on them, not you, and it indicates that you are a more highly developed person. So just teach yourself not to feel bad and to just smile so that when somebody is rude it makes you feel good (and superior rather than inferior.)

Third, expect criticsm. Walk into every reading knowing that your stuff won't be liked by the majority, only a special few. You can't please everybody, but the ones you do please will make you successful.

Fourth, when somebody doesn't like something in your work, say to them, "That's interesting." And ask them polite questions to get more detail. If you react with respect and interest, people will pass along the truth to you about what they think and feel.

Fifth, there's a rule that I call the "Rule of Seven." It goes like this. "It takes seven explanations before the other person will understand what I'm saying." "It will take seven spec scripts before I get a writing job." "I will have to write a scene seven times before I get it right." "This guy will insult me seven times before he realizes I'm laughing at his rudeness." See? If you expect each thing to take seven trys then it doesn't bother you in the least if something happens once, twice, etc.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Generally, I just let go of feelings if they are disturbing me and start again, thinking I'm lucky if I achieve my goal in less than seven trys!

Hollie Nell said...

Thanks so much everyone! I totally agree. And even though I think his comments were (un)intentionally harsh, I'll still go back and read over the dialogue, do a quick comma search and keep trucking. I told a friend of mine (a non-writer) about the situation and she said, "If this guy makes you lose the love for writing..." and I had to cut her off there. No one, no matter what the notes given could ever do that. And after day or two of venting, I'm convinced that I have a great script that still needs just a little more TLC. I appreciate all your comments!

Monsterbeard said...

From Alex Epstein's link to Denis McGrath's blog:

And, just to add some snark, Kurt Vonnegut never had anything nice to say about semicolons. I believe he considered them the hemaphrodite of punctuation. Goodbye, Blue Monday.

Monsterbeard said...

Oops, that got cut off.
how to give notes