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Monday, February 16, 2009

Coverage Language

Hello, Wavers, I am re-purposing an older post (way older, like almost two years old) about the language used in coverages. There are reasons for reposting this today to which you are not privy, but suffice to say that sometimes it's easier to just say to someone: read The Rouge Wave today.


Readers write coverages in a strange, pseudo industry speak that sometimes sounds purposefully vague. That’s because it is. We are covering our asses. Incidentally, the biggest ass cover a reader can hide behind is “consider with reservation” which means – Um, I dunno. Not bad but not great and oh geez, the pressure!

Remember, it is considered bad form for a reader to really trash your script. We have to be polite. There are potential minefields a reader must step around. Most notably, the writer could be the executive’s wife, friend or second cousin. I have had this experience. I didn’t trash the script (see bad form, above) but I nor did I mince words. I returned the script to the executive. This should have clued me in because we usually just throw the script away. Sitting in his office was his wife. Oh! This is the reader who covered your script, honey! I turned, oh what is the expression? – a whiter shade of pale. I felt so ambushed. Why didn’t he tell me?? Because the exec wanted an honest coverage. Had I been in a stupid or cranky mood and not been aware of the Readers Do No Harm oath, I would have been fired for having written a slightly snarling coverage – the script was that bad.

It sometimes feels as if we readers say the same things over and over and over. Because we do. Though the permutations of stories can be almost infinite, the problems within them are actually relatively finite. And so we use a proscribed vocabulary to lightly but firmly tell an exec just why this script is a “pass.” The words we use are written in a polite code. A code which you may also recognize, in a couple of instances, from bank loan officers or doctors...

Here is a key to what a reader says and what a reader really means in a “pass” coverage.

You’re sunk.

You’re flailing.

Soft premise
Boring script.

Two-dimensional characters
The characters sucked.

Thin character work
The characters sucked.

Unfortunately, soft or missing stakes...
Script was boring; nothing fueled the journey.

However, the linear narrative...
I fell asleep during the read and woke up with a notepad stuck to my face.

Unfortunately, action lines need work
Holy crap, how did this writer get the script here? Seriously we need a better filtering system.

Faulty logic was hard to follow...
Okay I know I’m tired but I had my Wheaties and the script didn’t freaking make sense!

Poor structure
Three cups of coffee and I see no freaking plot points. I am having reader rage!

Now, you will never see your own coverage, that’s the rub. The exec will simply read the first paragraph summary to your agent over the phone. And your agent will say to you simply: It wasn’t for them. Or maybe something like, they thought the ending was too predictable.

This is why, if you can, it is a great experience to get a coverage of your script from a consultant or script reading service – just to check out what would be said about your script in Reader-ese. Yes, readers are subjective but until the Reader 5000 is fully developed by scientists working round the clock, you’re stuck with us.

Let me once more dispel the subjectivity fear (or rationale as the case may be) that writers assign to the coverage process. We do this every day. We have nothing against you, in fact we get really excited when your script is fantastic because you make our day. We learn very quickly to set aside our personal likes and dislikes, roll up our sleeves and examine your script from a mechanical perspective. We will not trash you – even if we really hate your script. It will only get us fired or otherwise in the hot seat. We always start off by trying to say one good thing. It might be “A script with a very inventive take on an amphibian democracy on Pluto unfortunately has some issues with character, structure, premise and logic.” Note the “inventive take.” Sometimes that’s all we can pull out of the hat. I have at times stared at my blank computer screen trying heroically to come up with that one good thing.

We don’t want to write our coverages in non-committal Reader-ese, but we are trained to and in the end it does facilitate our jobs. The key above is chiefly meant to entertain but ironically, my definitions are pretty accurate.

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1 comment:

Trina0623 said...

Hi Julie,
Could you please expand on the "linear narrative?" I think I know what you mean, but not entirely sure.