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Monday, July 23, 2007

Beg to Differ

The Wave-inatrix's script consulting business has grown such that there are now other readers available to read scripts in the two and three reader packages. Whether or not the Wave-inatrix is one of those readers, I do of course review all the sets of notes, ensuring the notes meet my standards. The whole point of getting your script read by two or three readers at once is that you will see variances of opinion.

Recently, my two readers (wildly qualified and experienced, both) turned in notes on the same script and I noticed something fascinating. While their story notes were almost identical (there were a lot of problems) they had some nitpicky notes that were almost completely opposite. The writer is one who just so happens to have a ton of voice and personality on the page - something I absolutely adore. But one reader really took him to task for one particular action line stylism he has while the other made no comment but picked up on another stylism and took him to task for that. And interestingly, though I was not the third reader on the material - I have read his work before and would not have been bothered by either example.

So I went back and reviewed the notes again and found, upon closer examination, that the story notes from both readers reflected a narrative that was not working in a rather profoundly unsettling way. And they both felt character work was way off for the main character. AHA - so the reason they lasered in on a couple action line idiosyncrasies was that they were irritated that the script was not working on a larger level. And when readers get cranky about things like that - they nitpick.

I have had the same experience myself - if a script has a lot of typos and it's not working as a whole, I will definitely ride those misspells and malapropisms. If the script is pretty great on the whole, my eyes glide over small errors because I don't care - I'm caught up in the story.

So the moral is manyfold: yes readers can and might nitpick over small errors and idiosyncrasies and yes that is totally subjective. So, particularly if this is your first through fourth script or so - take it easy on stylizing or otherwise popping a lot of wheelies on the pages - try to lay down a great, solid story as your number one top priority. In fact, that is always, aways the first priority but the Wave-inatrix finds that the more experience a writer has getting the story right, then the writer can relax and add that layer of voice and style. But it's a careful balance at first.

Happy is the reader reviewing pages telling a great story in a great way, but cranky is the reader reviewing pages that aren't working, made more plain by stylistic choices that only highlight what isn't working. The impression a reader is left with is that the writer was a lazy pretender, eager to show off an undisciplined voice but not yet skilled enough to tell an original story and execute it well.

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Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a growing enterprise. I love people who create opportunity.
Your mention of story above all reminds me why I like reading scripts on triggerstreet and zoetrope.
Some folks hate those sites because they feel the writing may lack a quality that makes any good idea for
a story worthless. It's the other way for me, I want to read, scroll, read faster and enjoy the good and unusual stories.
It's like an English class where they make you read Gone with the Wind, and you ask the teacher if you
can read something with characters smoking and causing trouble.

I think you took my last post wrong. The good example was written so I did not even notice the camera fourth wall.
It was the lesser example, where it stood out too much. That's what I was trying to say.

Christian M. Howell said...

Maybe I'll take you up on your services. I was thinking of the two reader package though as I have been spending money hand over fist trying to make this a reality for me.

I can say I have seen the subjective nitpicking you mention. I wouldn't really call it nitpicking per se but perhaps a reaction to something they vehemently disagree with.

My first script is probably the hardest thing anyone could write as it's a coming-of-age story about a virgin who wants to remain so throughout college.

Talk about livening up the drying of paint. One good thing is that it would have one helluva trailer.

My first experience with a pro reader (nearly 10K scripts - oops is that a giveaway?) gave me a lot to think about.

I am pleased though that I incorporated most of his suggestions and the suggestions of someone else into the story in two days and it still maintains the desired mood and theme.

So I guess if a reader gives you very few notes, that means they have no opinion or can't articulate it which seems far worse than when a reader can see what you are doing but doesn't think you got there.

And as I always said; after reading a lot of amateur screenplays, I could never get mad at a reader. Well, maybe a little but they can help to improve the movie.