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Hello. Are You Insane?

So there’s this guy on the SP list this morning who reckons writers should believe in their own talent and forget about using script readers. He also says that script reading doesn’t lead on to anything – his mates who were script reading ten years ago are still script reading today.

As we all know, I’m a script reader, so I’m clearly going to think script reading is a good thing. So let me address his first point as a writer.


I believe in my own talent: if I didn’t, I wouldn’t send my stuff out. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even write if I didn’t. And like all of us, I think I rock more than my competition – because if I didn’t, again I wouldn’t send my stuff out. You have to have a certain amount of ego to write: forget about the scripts, you’re essentially sending out a notice that says, OI. THIS IS BRILLIANT. EFFING READ IT (or words to that effect, at least).

But the thing is, no one can write the perfect script without some outside input. Why? Because if you want your script to be sent out, your script is not destined just for YOU, it’s destined for the OUTSIDE WORLD. You will be asking people other than yourself to understand it – and because of this, you need to know what other people think of your ideas, way of writing it. There will have been opportunities missed in that first draft; there will be ambiguous turns of the narrative that are clear in YOUR head but not to a person who hasn’t written it. This is why even commissioned and produced writers get assigned script editors. They don’t just get given a storyline or a deal and go away and write: they EXPLORE alternative ways to tell the same story. It’s a necessary part of the whole thing.

What’s more, script reading DOES lead on to something – better writing. I’ve done A LOT of courses in scriptwriting, but I’ve learnt more script reading than anywhere. Script reading has been my training in what NOT to do three quarters of the time and what to aspire to a quarter of the time.

Of course you have to stick to your guns every now and again: just this weekend I wrote a pitch where a reader insisted I should try another angle, when in my heart I wanted to do the one I came up with. His angle was actually an interesting one, even a good one, but I just didn’t want to do it that way, it *felt* wrong for the story I had conceived. And it’s my story, not his. But he also came up with a truck load of other suggestions that IMPROVED my pitch. I’ll send it off later today knowing that it’s the best it can possibly be at this time thanks to him.

And that’s the thing: you can tweak and polish all you want, but if you don’t show it to anyone before you send it off, how can you possibly guess at how it might be received? You can’t. This biz is difficult as it is, don’t handicap yourself and prevent yourself from growing as a writer by denying yourself feedback – no matter who it comes from, I’d wager 9/10 your work will be improved.

But then you know that, right?

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14 thoughts on “Hello. Are You Insane?”

  1. There seems to be a groundswell of writers with the attitude that only more experienced writers are qualified to offer notes. Which is short-sighted and more than a little precious. Even a complete amateur – or a non-writer – is able to offer useful notes, albeit mainly of the “Why’s he carrying a spanner in that scene, but a gun in this one?” variety.

  2. Actually I disagree Jase – even amateurs can have points that really resonate. My Mum for instance has never written a script in her life (and never will) but has watched enough TV to offer some fantastic pointers for my TV scripts. And I’m writing for people like her at the end of the day.

    Don’t get me wrong though – the more experienced a reader is, the better they are I reckon at getting down to the “nitty gritty”. But “experience” doesn’t have to include actual writing I think, funnily enough. I’ve had bizarre notes from writers with massive credits that have made my head explode every bit as much as from amatuers.

  3. Here’s the thing, a lot of writers do some reading work in the early days. At film school I read for an indie producer based in Tribeca for a short while.

    As a writer what you have to try and develop over time is a sense of what constitutes a good note and what notes are best politely ignored. This becomes increasingly complicated in TV because very often you can’t just discard the changes that are being requested.

    BTW, thanks for the linkage, Lucy. I hope people reading my blog get something from it.

  4. You’re welcome. A lot of new writers complain they don’t know what to do with contradictory advice, you’re right DG. But that comes with practice. I’ve got a script sitting on my desktop that became another simply because I tried to please everyone! It’s a mad Frankenstein hybrid of weirdness. Don’t do that anymore. I have heard from plenty of TV writers like yourself though that one can end up writing all sorts of mad stuff because of crazy notes though…

  5. You weren’t really disagreeing with me, Luce – I said that an amateur/non-writer will *mainly* help with continuity. Still, I know you like a good disagreement and I shan’t deprive you of it. So you’re wrong! Etc.

  6. I read that post too and I absolutely disagree with it. Feedback raises your game. As an audience, viewers are informed and sophisticated about what they watch and it’s foolish to underestimate their expertise.

    I regularly give my scripts to an old college mate to read. her feedback is usually no more complex than ‘it made me laugh’ but that’s ok. Unless it’s a harrowing drama in which case I’m in real trouble…

  7. I also read the Shooting People thread and thought it pretty stupid to be honest. I’m a script reader too and so may be doing us both out of some work, but if writers don’t want to pay a script reader, fine. Find yourself a writers group and get it that way. But if you are not getting feedback at all, you are screwed. All my work has improved from feedback. I can’t think of a single occasion where it has made something worse. But yes, trying to include every single note is disaterous and you need to hold onto what you want the story to be. These threads on Shooting People seem to often be from bitter writers who think the world owes them a living. It doesn’t. So you better do all you can to make your work as good as possible. Including using script readers.

  8. I am happy to be done out of work Jez – it’s far preferable in my eyes that people exhaust avenues like Po3 before coming to me if they only want or can only afford one set of notes. Why? Because the script is more polished and thus more of a challenge to read and give notes on.

    Having said that, I do have a hardcore of long term Bang2writers who like to share their very first-first drafts with me and “build them up” draft on draft and this is a privilege ‘cos I can see drafts grow and get better (as well as the writers themselves too). But that does include a certain level of trust, especially with new writers who can feel worried about this. I’m always happy to help on that though and don’t pass judgement on general plot weirdness, on-the-nose dialogue or strange character motivation. Why would I? I don’t write perfect first drafts either.

    I wonder if these writers who don’t believe in feedback REALLY mean they’re too WORRIED to get feedback?

  9. Must admit, I read that post and my jaw dropped.

    Each to their own and all that – and I was considering responding along the lines of “all feedback is valuable feedback” – but I don’t fancy being torched on SP this week! 😉

  10. I think the posters on SP are some times SO off the mark it’s unreal. You just know that the person who posted that bobbins is going to be a producer’s nightmare – very prickly and defensive. What a *perfect* attitude for re-writing and developing a long relationship with. And as we all know writing is re-writing.
    Lucy you are a total star… as always…

  11. Cheers luv, I thought Danny’s response on the list today was excellent – probably a lot calmer than mine would have been, but then “calmness” has never been my forte ; )

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