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Thursday, April 14, 2011

I try to give positive, constructive notes. Insight is rare and crucial, of course, but simply how you phrase a note can make it easier for the writer to absorb it. Here are three things you can do to make your notes go down more smoothly:

1. Make every note positive.

By positive, I don't mean tell people things are good when they're not. I mean phrase the note in a positive way.

Every negative note can be phrased positively, using a few more words.

"I have no idea who this character is." -> "I'd like to see this character defined more clearly."

"This is confusing." -> "Can you clarify what is going on here?"

"This is a gaping plothole." -> "Can you come up with a more convincing way to get here?"

"I don't believe this twist." -> "I'd like you to work a bit harder at earning this plot point."

2. Note how some of these notes are phrased personally. "I feel..." "I'd like..." It helps to avoid the Voice of God in notes. They won't be any less authoritative. Anything you say will have exactly the same amount of authority whether you claim it's the facts or your opinion. But if you state it personally, it acknowledges that you could be wrong. And you could be.

3. Note how some of these notes are phrased as a question. "This is confusing" provokes the reaction, "No, it's not! You're just an idiot! Screw you! I'm going to throw myself out the window now." "Can you clarify this" provokes the reaction, "Yeah, sure, sorry 'bout that. I'll get right on it."

Obviously it's important to be clear, and smart, in your notes. But when you have a choice between phrasing a note as "this is bad" and "I'd like to see this improved," the latter is almost certainly going to allow your note-taker to focus more on your note, and less on that peculiar combination of anger, guilt, humiliation and nausea that is every writer's instinctive reaction to criticism.

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6 Comments:

I think that's pretty accurate if you're being paid to gives notes.

Not so sure how it holds up on a case by case basis.

I'd rather have my manager say "This is a gaping plothole" than "Can you be more convincing here?"

I prefer more direct responses. And they generally result in a better product.

"I don't believe this twist" does me a whole lot more than "I'd like you to work a bit harder at earning this plot point." That latter is vague.

Maybe it's just me. But if you're beating around the bush, I don't know what your opinion is.

The irony is that if you pay for your screenplay to be read, they aren't going to tell you your work sucks. If you give it to a friend, they will (at least mine do).

I want to know what's working. "This doesn't work," while negative tells me a lot more than, "This could be better."

By Blogger James, at 5:25 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Steve Spatucci, at 7:52 AM  

I'm someone who does appreciate those kinds of notes in any feedback, because it is subjective. Those kinds of notes don't sound vague to me. Everyone is different, but it seems like a better idea to write in a way that acknowledges these are opinions (well-informed as they may be) - I think most people will better receive feedback written in that style, instead of the "this is wrong" style that automatically puts creators on the defensive.

By Blogger Steve Spatucci, at 7:54 AM  

I do think the notes need to be clear, but I also really like the "I feel" or "I didn't really get a feel for the character " kind of notes. No matter how expert your reviewer might be, it really is subjective and its important to remember that. Another reader might feel differently about the same draft. I usually rewrite the comments in a different piece of paper anyway for when I am hammering out a rewrite so I keep the valid points in mind without having to read a negative review a hundred times which CAN make you want to jump out a window. For example "it's not funny enough" becomes "add more comedy".

By Blogger Linda, at 9:56 AM  

I often work with someone who says "My notes are worth exactly what you paid for, which in that case is nothing... Take 'em or leave 'em. Your choice."

By Blogger David, at 9:57 AM  

Start out with all the positives, what's working, then lead into weaknesses with "an area that could be strengthened . ." or some such. Of course they know what's coming, but they're much more open for what they need to hear at this point.

By Blogger Michael J. Farrand, at 2:40 PM  

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