I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen those words in a Facebook group or a chat list. “Anybody want to read my script?” I think writers who post this kind of question are playing a dangerous game.
Feedback is a terrific and useful tool in the life of a writer. No matter the medium, it’s a key element. In the world of TV, writers regularly get feedback from producers, studio executives, network executives, show runners and other writers on staff. In theater, critiques come from dramaturgs, directors, producers, reviewers and the audience. It’s important to be willing (and able) to absorb feedback with grace and a thick skin.
That doesn’t mean that just anybody should read your script.
Since everyone has different taste and a different sensibility, it’s possible that a random reader may not be the best choice to go through your work and make comments. We live in an age of snark and disrespect. The average person is used to tearing into movies and TV with ruthless abandon. People talk about how plays, films and actors “suck” and how certain creators “should be shot”. We’ve been socialized to throw around brutal commentary easily and often. Those kinds of comments are not useful to a writer trying to make something better.
Years ago, when one of my early plays was read, a man in the audience spoke out at a ‘talk back’. He proceeded to say that he didn’t care for the main character of my piece and he wasn’t sure why he should be sympathetic to anything the character was going through. It didn’t move him. He didn’t care. And he told me so – in front of a few dozen people. That play happened to be largely autobiographical. Even though the man didn’t know that, his critique struck a nerve. I shut down. I freaked out. It was a difficult blow. It didn’t matter that this man was a stranger to me. His words stung. And in that forum, he was free to chime in.
Everyone who gives their opinion of a script believes they’re being helpful. That doesn’t mean everyone IS being helpful.
That’s why I cringe when I see people randomly canvassing for readers in a public forum. Without some criteria, some sense of vetting, it’s bound to be painful. What if you’ve written a musical and your reader hates musicals? What if you’ve crafted a thriller and the reader isn’t into that kind of work? What if the reader is simply a frustrated wanna-be artist who enjoys lashing out at anyone brave enough to create something from scratch? Do you really want to hand your precious script to that person, simply because they say “I’ll read it”?
Some writers believe that brutal criticism is important. They believe writers should hear THE TRUTH about their work – at all costs.
But everything in art is subjective. Two readers can see a piece very differently. Who’s truth is truer?
There’s an art to giving feedback. A good reader can be gentle and honest at the same time. A good reader knows that her thoughts are JUST her thoughts. You’re the one who gets to decide whether to incorporate the comments or just let them wash over you. Why would it be useful to feel bad about your work in the name of TRUTH? Brutality isn’t necessary to convey a helpful response.
If you’re looking for expertise: someone who knows a genre or a style, someone who has theatre experience, or a certain specialty, you owe it to yourself to find that person.
You also owe it to yourself to set some ground rules. What kind of comments do you want? What are the elements you want to hear critiqued? Would you like praise first? Then everything else? Do you have specific questions you’d like answered? Do you want written feedback or to hear it on the phone? Would you like to get comments in person? Are you looking for page-by-page dissection of your script? Or a general sense of how it lands? The clearer you are, the better chance you’ll get clear feedback.
My experience with the guy in the audience of my play led me to ask a series of questions about what I want from a reader, viewer or audience member. I can’t always get what I want. But over the years, I’ve developed a way to ask for comments. And I have some go-to people. I won’t ask just anybody.
That led me to offer script reading as part of my coaching services. I have a unique and thorough process that’s fun and comprehensive. And, by all accounts, people find it very helpful.
Whether or not you use my services, take the time to figure out what you want in a script reader. If you don’t know anyone suitable, search for a professional reader with the right criteria for you. This is worth paying for – feedback is crucial in the development of a piece of writing and in the development of a writer.
Don’t leave it to just anybody.