Trust Your Readers (and yourself)

The more scripts I read the more patterns I see. Reading copies of scripts that have produced reveal different patterns than reading a stack of hopefuls, unvetted besides an entry fee and a rough page count.

A major difference, one that I didn’t notice to start with but now that I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it, is confidence. More than half of the scripts I’ve read for for this contest have been written by someone who lacks confidence.

  • He doesn’t think I’ll understand how the lines are to be said by the context. 
    • Puts wrylies under half of the dialogue.
  • She doesn’t trust that her words can convey the tone and emotion of her idea,
    • Adds italics and bolds and caps and underlines all the way through until her script looks like an old Batman comic.
  • He feels like I’m not smart enough to understand what he’s talking about.
    • Puts dictionary definitions and notes in the middle of the page to explain terms, ideas, and even how to pronounce words.
  • She isn’t confident in her role as the creator of this world.
    • Adds notes like “they can ad-lib here” or “we can change this for budget reasons”.
  • He doesn’t want to be the one to actually have to pin things down.
    • Introduces characters with lines such as, “We’ll call him Bob. He’s middle-aged and normal looking.” (rather than “Bob, 37, cat hair on the knees of his cheap suit”).
  • She doesn’t want to be seen as pushy or controlling.
    • Uses “it’s like”, “almost as if”, “maybe”, “I think/feel”, “you could”, etc. in the action lines.

Most of this is fear.

Fear of not being in control, of not being understood, of not having their idea realized perfectly in the other person’s head.

Which, of course, it never will be.

The writer doesn’t trust that plain words will speak for themselves, and he really doesn’t trust that I can interpret his words in my head without help. So he writes an amateur script in an attempt to prove that he knows what he’s doing.

Writers are world-builders. We create people and places and events out of nothing. It’s terrifying because it’s personal. If something is from my brain then I invented it, and you don’t like it then you don’t like my brain and that means you hate me and I’m an idiot and a failure and I’m doomed to fail forever.

So the spiral goes.

Improv helped me with that. Helped me learn to start separating what I do from who I am so that critiques of my work don’t automatically equal attacks on me as a person (though, let’s be honest- that’s the way it still feels most of the time).

(feel that hot, twisty urge to lash out and defend yourself when someone doesn’t understand what you meant?)

(that’s 1000% stronger when they did understand and just don’t like it?)

Meisner classes, however, are what taught me that I was a hedger. It wasn’t until I started doing repetition that I even heard the words coming out of my mouth. My instructor insisted that I say, plain and simple, the emotion I saw on my partner’s face.

“You look sad.”

“No, say ‘you are sad’.”

“You seem sad.”

“No, say ‘you are sad’.”

“I think you’re sad.”

“No, say ‘you are sad’.”

“Are you sad?”

“No, say ‘you are sad’.”

“You…. aresad.”

“Say it clearly and firmly.”

“You are sad.”

(then I feel ashamed and embarrassed and have the urge to reassure my partner that it isn’t true at all)

(it’s funny, that we’re not supposed to say what we see others feeling)

(we’re not supposed to trust our own judgement)

So I know what it’s like. I write this from a place of sympathy; my first drafts are full of hedges and evasions and skirting around the truth (though much less than my first drafts a few years ago).

One of my edit passes is specifically to look for that. I read the script and say to myself, “I’ve sold 18 scripts and everyone wants me to write for them” and then I read the lines and if they aren’t that confident then I change them.

(fake it ‘til you’ve got it)

The worst part is that some of the writers are excellent. They write stories that are exciting, with complex characters, witty dialogue, and surprise twists at the end. They have the technical ability to be a professional writer. But they sabotage themselves through a lack of confidence. They are the thing in their own way.

(preaching to the choir here)

Be confident in your writing. Write with authority. Say what you see in your head. Don’t apologize for the choices you make on the page.

I might hate it. I might love it.

Either way you’ll stand out. 

Either way it’s better than being the written equivalent of oatmeal.


photo credit: 20140904 September Food 018 via photopin (license)
photo credit: 20140904 September Food 018 via photopin (license)

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