Many thanks to Elly-Jane who asks this question:
“You talk alot on your blog about coverage and feedback and taking on board what Readers, Producers, Execs, etc say: that they’re not out to “get” new writers and they want to help… But what if you get feedback like this?
“(This script) has no subtext. Not one single character has anything interesting to say, they’re just going through the motions, so The Reader is treated to what amounts to a series of day-to-day conversations… yet not amounting to a real, holistic story.”
I feel hurt and confused. This is so negative… I tried really hard. How should I respond to this? Just move on? I know you say we shouldn’t write back to Readers explaining stuff, but I just can’t get this out of my head.”
It’s never pleasant to get rejections: it’s not easy in real life, so it comes as no surprise that it hurts when writing. This script is your “baby”: when someone attacks it then, you feel as Elly-Jane describes, hurt and confused. I have too. Only recently a close associate barked at me, “Not up to standard… Go back to page one.” about one of my scripts. When I objected, saying it would be more helpful to say WHY it wasn’t “up to standard”, s/he softened considerably, even apologising, saying they FELT it wasn’t up to my usual standard since I had missed various opportunities in the story, perhaps I had rushed it? They were right; I had. And I did need to go back to page 1.
But there’s a way of saying it.
It’s this that is crucial in giving feedback or coverage in my view. I’ve not read Elly-Jane’s script and nor have I read the rest of The Reader’s thoughts or know who it was. However, in my opinion the comments above are not only very negative as Elly-Jane complains, they are incredibly solipsistic – rather, it says the script is a particular way, for no other reason than the Reader says it is. They are using their own feelings as justification for what they say: “This script has no subtext”: who says? They say. Perhaps it doesn’t have a definable subtext to this particular Reader, but does that mean Elly-Jane did not include any or more crucially in the case of the newer writer, try to include any. And we all know that one man’s meat is another’s poison: I’ve had one script derided as “incomprehensible” on one end of the scale right through to “overly simplistic” on the other… This is the same draft. Just different Readers.
When we read other people’s work, whether we’re professionals or amateurs or students or whatever, I believe we should not only appreciate it takes guts to get one’s work “out there”, we need to realise our view is just that – ours and therefore fallible. Sure, I’ve read scripts and groaned; others I’ve rejoiced. Which is the better opinion? Neither. As I’ve said before, I have my own prejudices and my own influences. I’m fallible, like everyone else.
However, by adding phrases like “In my view…”, “in my eyes…”, “it did/n’t work for me…”, you’re showing the person whose work you’ve read not only your opinion about the material, but the notion that you know you’re fallible as well. This immediately takes the sting out of a bad report or keeps people’s feet on the ground when you say their script is good. One view is just that: one. But perhaps yours is the one that makes or breaks another’s dream. You don’t have to be a big wig producer either to do that: a friend of mine hasn’t written a word since she was nineteen, because her sister derided a single line in a poem of hers. She’d said the rest was great. Yet all my friend heard was the ridicule of that one line.
So: to Elly-Jane, do move on. Don’t explain yourself or your script to this Reader, that won’t help, but if it will make you feel better, perhaps send a politely worded email about their use of language like I did regarding my “standard” and my associate. However, like mothers tell their daughters that “being happy” is the biggest revenge when they’re dumped by some spotty oik of a boyfriend, the biggest revenge is keeping writing, keeping your work out there. And proving those solipsistic Readers wrong, even if that takes twenty years.