Skip to content

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Giving Feedback

So, I’ll be running a new series on B2W, this time “Top 5 Mistakes”. I’m kicking off with Feedback and will be following up with my top 5 mistakes on Submissions. Have an idea for another in this series? Then let me know in the comments, on Twitter or via email.

First off then, here’s my top 5 mistakes on GIVING feedback – Enjoy … and BEWARE!


1) Highjacking Another Writer’s Vision

Look, we get it – it might seem OBVIOUS to you how the story has missed opportunities, or that writing a story *that* way just doesn’t work. But writers may be too close to their work, which is why they’re asking for your help, not your condemnation.

Equally, just because YOU think your idea for the story works, doesn’t mean the writer will. Your job is not to give solutions per se, but provide a springboard for the writers’ OWN ideas, remember. MORE: 6 Things To Remember When Dealing With Writing Feedback

2) Forgetting writing is about DEVELOPMENT

No one can write a first draft that’s top notch straight off the bat. NO ONE. Sure, some first drafts are better than others; plus some will be absolutely awful. It’s not your job then to express surprise or disappointment that the draft is not “better”; it helps no one, least of all the writer. In fact, it’s demotivating. Besides anything, it makes no sense to do this, because *any* draft can always be BETTER. That’s what development is for! MORE: How Do You Script Edit Without Rewriting It As Your Own Story?

3) Thinking your job is to FIX writing

We’re back to number 1 on this list again, essentially. Opinions on what “works” and what “doesn’t” are just that – opinions. There are multiple ways of looking at story and characters and forgetting that is a huuuuuuuuuuuge error when giving feedback.

But more than this, the best feedback-givers FACILITATE writing, they don’t “fix” it. They go beyond what is solely on the page and motivate the writer, encouraging them to connect with both their talent and grit, to get their best work done. What’s not to like? MORE: What Script Editors Do AKA 5 Tips To Edit Your Own Screenplay

4) Not having the vocab to explain issues

There’s a reason new feedback-givers focus on little niggly things like Format, such as HOW the script looks on the page.

They may also focus on strange little details to do with the story – random, tiny moments, as opposed to elements that might actually DEVELOP the story and its characters.

Put bluntly, this is usually because the feedback-giver doesn’t know what s/he is doing. Sure, we all have to start somewhere, but if you want to be taken seriously as a script reader or editor? You have to get the skillz – and QUICKLY.

This means, you have to understand how structure and character works, STAT. And no, I don’t mean reading a single book on structure; I mean IMMERSING yourself in the subject. And no, I don’t mean talking about character “tropes” and how terrible they all apparently are – I mean character motivation vs role function (and that’s just for starters!).

MORE: 2 Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts

5) Forgetting these are people’s hopes and dreams

It comes down to this: if you’re a writer, you’ll probably know how much vitriol and rejection can sting. Do as you would be done by.

But okay, maybe you’re one of those thick-skinned writers, or perhaps you don’t write yourself. So think on this, instead: yes, the work in front of you might be awful in your opinion. But someone worked hard on it, sacrificing time, money and more to do it.

These are not just spec screenplays and unpublished novels; these are people’s hopes and dreams. Forget that at your peril. MORE: How Do I Become A Script Reader?

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2019! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back for its FIFTH year in 2019! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 22-23 June, 2019 and ULTRA early bird tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

Share this:

5 thoughts on “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Giving Feedback”

  1. Would you consider doing a script reading class in the United States, or perhaps doing an online class? I love your writing tips. Thank you!

    1. Hello Cheryl, so glad you like the tips! Yes we are thinking of doing an online version of this class, watch this space for more details — will announce when I know something! 😀

  2. Being too vague is also pretty unhelpful to writers. “I give it a B” is nice, but doesn’t tell them anything. “I didn’t care about Bobby” is better. I think it’s best to stick to the effect the script had on you and pretty much avoid ideas on how to fix it altogether. The writer knows exactly what they meant to do to you, the audience. If you say “I didn’t understand why Clara said that” it’s probably way better than “I thought Clara should have said this” because the writer knows Clara a lot better than you but they do need to know if her actions are coming off as random. That’s something they can use.

  3. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU…I need this after just managing to calm my nerves and regain my confidence as I recently asked for feedback on a sitcom pilot, there were couple of readers who were wonderfully constructive and helped me identify problems that I hadn’t seen that caused plot holes this was great and thanks to them my current draft is a million times better. But there were a couple that frankly scared the living shit out of me, one became aggressive when I asked for clarification on their feedback, they snapped they hadn’t the time to explain. But then continued asking what I was doing with the script and asked if they could read the next draft. They scare me, and I’m still scared now. Another gave me a plot that they had decided would work better, which wasn’t in the draft, worse yet they took an adult female lead character and infantilized her into something i hadn’t written either, it was borderline paedophile. I had a similar experience on a screenwriting course at Uni, a tutor insisting we write characters as he saw them and would humiliate students who didn’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *