Notes are an integral part of the rewrite process. At some point your script is going to find its way into the hands of a friend, reader, manager, producer, etc…you may go through multiple revisions at different levels of development. Constructive feedback helps shape your work into its best form.
That being said, making sense of the notes you are given and incorporating them are two difficult things to achieve. You think it’d be easy once you have notes to know all the things you need to fix. If only it were that simple.
Both giving and getting notes are skills. By that I mean, you get better the more you do it. Sometimes what is in your head isn’t getting onto the pages of your script. Conversely, sometimes a script note can be a good note but not communicated well. And that’s really what it comes down to – communication.
You asked someone to read your work and give you notes. Listen. It’s really easy to be combative or defensive. It’s much harder to hear/read what someone has to say and then try to see where they are coming from.
Some script notes will resonate with you more than others.
I often find that there are parts of my script that I’m working through but can’t quite figure out how to make it all come together. It’s amazing when someone can articulate something that I couldn’t. They help nudge the script in the right direction.
Don’t argue with feedback.
You can’t argue with an opinion. It’s their opinion, and it’s valid. You can ask questions to try to pinpoint why they feel the way they do about a particular part of your script.
Helpful feedback addresses points of the script with specificity. It tells you what, why, and where – sometimes even how.
Unhelpful feedback would be something like, “I don’t like this.” It’s unspecific and generally doesn’t tell you what to assess. So if you encounter that, be proactive; ask, “What about this character/scene/dialogue didn’t work for you?” Don’t be snarky, be real in your inquiry.
Depending on who’s giving you notes, who you have access to (professionals, non-professionals), etc…, some people are more comfortable or articulate in their note giving. Work with what ‘cha got.
Always say thank you.
Someone took time to read your work. Say thank you.
Positive or negative, always say thanks.
Be smart when incorporating notes.
If you give your script to multiple people and they all say something about how they didn’t understand XYZ, then there must be something you need to work on in XYZ.
If one person points out something they see as an issue and you never hear this same note from anyone else, don’t discard it entirely, but don’t feel like you MUST incorporate it. It might be a rogue note. If it doesn’t resonate with you, let it be for the moment.
You do not have to incorporate every note you get. You should think through them and do what’s best for your story. That’s the fine line you walk between “do I need to take this note or not.” Because you want to make sure you’re listening, but you don’t want to take a note that isn’t servicing your script.
Sometimes you’ll find that the note they give you really means something else. Whhaaaattt???
Yep, I said it. They’ll be all like, “Sandra and Jake don’t seem like they love each other, so I don’t believe the story.” And the blood will drain from your face because that’s the central component of your entire script. But maybe the note behind the note is that their relationship wasn’t set up in Act I, so their tumultuous affair didn’t land at the end of Act II. Maybe you need two scenes in the very beginning that establish more. But that’s not what they said, they said your story doesn’t work, so you’re freaking out.
This is why notes are confusing. Not all notes are going to make sense immediately. Some need to be thought through.
Plus, there is another element called your brain. Sometimes things in your head aren’t on the page, so if someone says they don’t see something in your script, you’re like no, no it’s there… in my mind…
Recognize positive feedback.
Some people hoard all the bad notes, make a bed, and sleep on it for the next five to ten years as tangible proof that they are a shitty writer. That’s not going to help you.
Pay attention to the positive notes you get. Look at your strengths. Say “heck, yeah, I’m great at this, and I’m going to get better at these other things.”
Just because you are not a prodigy of screenwriting doesn’t mean you need to give up. Give into getting better and recognizing the hard work it takes to be better. Then really rejoice when you see your own improvement. So please, please recognize the good things.