Ah, gotta love it. My favourite “advice”. NOT.
Because we writers never do *that*, do we? Instead we preside over our keyboards and say, “You know what? I’m going to write the DULLEST, MOST BORING SCRIPT in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. I’m actually going to make the reader want to TEAR THEIR OWN EYES OUT, they’re so F____ING BORED.”
Scripts take a LOOOOOONG time. You’ve GOT to be passionate about your characters, the story, whatever – else it would never be finished. People make all kinds of sacrifices time-wise, money-wise, to finish these scripts. People find themselves torn up in knots over them!
So all this, “write with passion” advice, constantly recycled by [insert respected prodco/blog/initiative here] is I think, in real terms, redundant. Not only that, I think it’s damaging and cruel. I’ve lost count of the number of GOOD writers I have had to coax off the screenwriting window ledge (“I’ll never write again!!”) because they’ve received the dreaded “you have no passion” feedback. Hell, I’ve even had to be talked off that same window ledge myself.
Of course, our scripts WILL bore readers from time to time. This might be because the script is badly crafted and meanders all over the place. But sometimes our scripts – no matter how well-crafted they are or how much WE love them – will be met with “meh”. Sometimes those readers will get back to us and say, “You know what? You need more passion.”
Really. Well, like all things, there’s more than one side of the story – and more than one way of looking at this.
Contrary to the current popular belief, just because a reader is not AUTOMATICALLY ENTHUSIASTIC about a script, this doesn’t mean the script is automatically crap/passion-less. I think this “write with passion” thing has become the latest GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card for readers. Why? Because that “boring script” depends not only on the writer, but also the RESPONSE of the reader, something a writer cannot POSSIBLY take into account 100% when they don’t even know who will end up reading it!
Response is dependent on so many things: whether the reader is a good one, for a start; whether they are interested in the subject matter; whether they have a LARGE PILE OF SCRIPTS to get through by a particular deadline; whether they have prejudices against a particular type of story or genre; whether the reader has a HEADACHE… The writer cannot possibly nail 100% of them down.
The idea a writer can get a reader to believe in their story NO MATTER WHAT, based on this phantom “passion” (which, let’s face it, means different things to different people anyway) I think is, actually, rather facile. It’s like saying only ONE SIDE of the transaction matters – yet no one would say the audience response to the actual film or TV series doesn’t count, so why do we say it’s all about the writer in the actual script reading??
There are two people in this: writer AND reader. Reader response is underrated and misunderstood – and that’s why there are so many bad readers and feedback-givers around. As a reader, you participate IN the work – and you bring various NEGATIVE things to the table, as well as the positive. Sometimes those negative things get in the way of your ability to appreciate an otherwise good script.
Of course, sometimes a good script is just hard to find. Whilst it’s true more scripts actually LOOK like scripts now, those scripts in the spec pile have the same problems they’ve always had: mostly structure and character. 9/10 scripts in the pile have this problem. End of. In short, NOTHING has really changed in all the time I have been reading which is a looooooooong time now.
So next time you get feedback saying very little other than “write with more passion”, DON’T despair. Don’t cry, or freak out, or ring up all your screenwriting friends for heart-to-hearts about YOU as a writer and whether it’s “worth” investing any more time in what is *surely* going to be a disaster…
… Instead, recognise it for what it is: a “get out of jail free” card. Pat yourself on the back: they couldn’t think of anything else.
Want to know more about reader response? As writers, knowing how readers *can* impose their OWN vision or POV on YOUR script, can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE: you needn’t agonise over poor feedback ever again! We’ll be looking at this – as well as the slush pile and each others’ work – at my new class in April 2010 at Ealing Studios, London, with Guerrila Filmmaker Chris Jones. All the details and booking here.