You did it! You finally finished your script! You’re done now, right?! Ah, if only this were the case. Before an episode of television goes to air, it typically goes through a rigorous notes process – first by the production company, then the studio, then the network. This means that each outline and draft can go through multiple rewrites before it becomes the thing you’ll watch on television. Crazy – right? But your first draft is just that – a first draft. Now it’s time to improve your script.
For anyone feeling attached to their material (which, let’s be honest, is most of us – we wrote it as-is for a reason!), comments and critiques can be difficult to swallow. It’s tempting to take it personally – to valiantly defend what’s already on the page. In truth, the notes process can be extremely enlightening – if you let it.
Receiving notes is all about mindset. If you’re properly primed to listen, notes can be the best thing to happen to your script. Here are a few tips about asking for and receiving notes on your script:
understand who is giving the notes
Set yourself up for success from the beginning by understanding who is noting you and what their interests are. Giving your script to your lawyer neighbor might be a great choice if you’re looking for feedback on the legal nuances of a court drama, but it’s unfair to expect them to be able to speak intelligently to your character work and plot.
It’simportant to cultivate an artistic community of trusted peers in which you can share your work.If you believe in and respect the talent of the person from whom you’re asking for feedback, then it’s fair to say there may be some validity to their notes. It’s not to say all of their notes should be implemented, but it is to say that you should be selective as to who you’re allowing to speak into your creative process.
When we get a note with which we disagree, it can be easy to become defensive or shut down. Hold on – before you say anything, stop for a moment and breathe. Remember that everyone here is trying to improve your script. If something you truly believed in is bumping someone else, that’s cause for additional questioning. And not an interrogation 🙂 A genuine curiosity. Ask the person to elaborate with questions like:
What about this specifically did you find confusing?
What parts of the relationship didn’t track for you?
Which parts did you feel were done well and why?
Follow-up questions might help to provide clarity as to why it is or isn’t a valid note and what the fix may be. If your reader says that he/she isn’t invested in the romance between your lead characters, it might not be a matter of throwing the characters away entirely – it might be as simple as adding a few beats of physical or verbal interaction. Either way, asking questions to drill down on the specifics of a note will provide clarity.
look for the note beneath the note
Often times, the people giving notes will suggest their fix for your script. When the fixes work, even better. But occasionally, a fix is suggested that doesn’t feel authentic to you or your voice.
I think that XYZ character should scale Mount Everest! That would really help.
There are a million reasons why you may not want to send your character to Everest, but it doesn’t disqualify the note. The note beneath that note is, “I think this character could stand to be/do something a little more adventurous.” Not all notes are meant to be taken literally, but in dismissing a seemingly crazy note in its entirety, you might miss an underlying comment that could serve your script and characters well. There is a way to discern the intention of a note and implement it in a way that feels true to you.
note, repeat, and wait
If you want to improve your script, I highly recommend sharing it with two-three trusted peers, openly and eagerly inviting their feedback, and sitting with it for a minute before diving back in again.
Welcoming feedback from a very small group of trusted colleagues is like taking a small survey – look for the commonalities and differences in their notes. At the end of the day, art is extremely subjective. Just because something bumps one person doesn’t mean it will bump another, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should reinvent the wheel. If there are areas where everyone is struggling, it might be worth a second look.
Identify the select few trusted peers from whom you’re willing to openly welcome notes and allow yourself time to mentally process their comments and the potential fixes before jumping back in prematurely. The worst thing you can do is edit emotionally or in a state of confusion. Find your clarity before picking apart your script.
Most importantly: Notes, when given properly, have the potential to significantly improve your script by exposing you to your blind spots or offering a perspective different than your own. Notes shouldn’t be seen as an attack – they should be seen as an opportunity.