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Conflicting Notes

Dear Paige,

I’m ready to tear my hair out. Script notes are going to leave me bald and bitter!

I put in a ton of work into the latest draft of my screenplay before sending it out to get feedback from fellow writers and from contest readers. The notes were completely in conflict with each other.

What one person loved, another person hated.

One person thought it was terrific, another had a ton of notes.

Some notes made sense, others made me question if they even understood what the story was about.

How is this possible?

I have no idea what to do. Naturally, I’d like to just pay attention to the obviously brilliant person who loved my script, fix a few typos, and pronounce it “done.”

Help me Paige!

Sincerely,

Conflicted


Dearest Conflicted,

I understand you’re fit to be tied, and in this particular situation, it’s no fun.

The truth is, those helping hands aren’t always helpful.

Conflicting notes? Get used to it! Congratulations and welcome to the world of screenwriting. Because it is always going to be like this.

Notes may be pointed and harsh, or they may start with “Perhaps we should consider discussing…” as one studio I’m thinking of was famous for. But every step of the way – from friends, to managers, agents, producers, and studio execs – everyone is going to have an opinion. Even at the professional level, you’re unlikely to find unanimous consensus.

You are not going to agree with all of the notes. But you are going to have to listen to them, interpret them, and find a way to address or incorporate them. And be diplomatic about it at the same time.

Actually, this bind you find yourself in is good practice for the real world. This is a skill you will need going forward in your career. You can’t allow yourself to be immobilized if you hope to be a professional.

Before you’re forced to wear a hat, let me share a few pointers.

Here’s how to handle notes like a pro:

  • Note-giving is a skill, and not everyone possesses the ability. If you have a set of notes that make you question if the reader actually read your script, toss them out rather than tying yourself up in knots.
  • Thoughtful criticism trumps mindless adoration. This one may chafe, but I recommend you also ignore the comments from the reader who thinks your script is the best thing since the invention of Final Draft.
  • Look for the common thread in notes. If multiple readers are questioning the logic, unclear on the theme, or not connecting with the characters, sit up straight and pay attention. While it may be perfectly clear to you, the creator of this universe, the name of the game is getting your vision on the page and into other people’s heads.
  • Fight the urge to debate a note you don’t agree with. Your energy is better spent trying to decipher it. Readers aren’t always able to articulate exactly what the problem is, but when they are pointing out an issue, it’s your job to figure out what is really bothering them.
  • Resist the counter argument. You hear a critique and your first thought is to defend your script. “But in the opening…” “But that character is…” “But a few pages later…” But, but, but. You may have a point, but so does your reader, based on their reading experience. Don’t debate; contemplate. If it didn’t work for them, it didn’t work on the page.
  • Same goes for taking notes too literally. If you receive feedback along the lines of “It feels like the heroine is missing from the script for a long time,” or “It felt like it moved slowly in Act Two,” understand that how the script “feels” to the reader is valuable input. “It feels to me” notes are often not literal – they are a visceral reaction that needs to be addressed. What feels as if it’s missing to the reader could be there, but lacks impact and resonance. It might be undermined by tone or juxtaposition. Your mission is to make it feel right.
  • Consider the source. This is one of the most valuable pieces of advice on dealing with life my mother ever gave me, and it applies here. Everyone has a unique perspective and their own agenda. Find out more on industry pros and their goals with notes plus pointer from working writers here.
  • Ultimately, it’s worth it to pay for a pro. Top consultants know how to give notes that are constructive. That makes their perspective invaluable.

No matter how amazing your script is; there is always room for improvement.

Your job as a writer is always going to be to interpret notes, to find the underlying meaning, and to remain faithful to your story – open to what may enhance it, and able to determine notes that might steer it in a different direction.

Loosen up my conflicted friend…

Love You/Mean It, Paige

Got a question for the Good Doctor?

Leave it in the comments below and Paige will get back to you!

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