Finding the Intent – the art of giving feedback
We gave some tips last week about receiving feedback. This week, we’re delving into the art of giving feedback. It can be a great experience – helping other writers, learning from how they do things, brushing up on your analytical skills. But it can also be tricky – how do you give feedback that will help them improve? Without demoralising them? And – in a format where there could be 1,000 things to say – how do you choose what to tell them?
Luckily, the art of helping writers develop a script is something Script Angel knows a little bit about! So here’s our quick read on feedback: the giving. Check out last week’s post on feedback: the receiving.
It’s All About Them
First thing first: this isn’t an ego-boosting exercise. It’s not about giving ‘perfect’ feedback that proves to the recipient that you know a lot about writing or film & TV and have therefore spotted every single thing wrong with their script. That’s the short way to making another writer feel crap.
“I just feel this lacks the morbidity to pass as a Buñuelian satire”
Nor is it telling them they’re the best writer since the invention of Courier New. That’s the short way to zero improvements.
The touchstone for all feedback? It is about helping the writer to craft the best possible version of the story they want to tell. So your role, as feedback-giver, is to guide and support the writer to clarify and execute their vision.
Giving feedback might start with reading the script but that’s just the beginning. Here’s our tips on turning your reader-response into thoughtful, constructive, actionable feedback.
- Know the script: Read the script thoroughly, several times if you need to. Give it your full attention so that you are visualising every scene play-out as you read it.
- Note how you felt: You’re responding to the material as an audience might. Trust your instinct – if you felt bored in the middle section or confused by a character’s actions in the final sequence, note it.
- Analysis – find the why: Do the thinking to work out your note under your emotional reaction; bored, confused, didn’t care – why? A good feedback-giver is able to dig into their response to pinpoint the causes of the problem, not just the symptom. Is it an issue with an inconsistent characterisation, a lack of escalation in the story structure, too many themes and messages, uneven tone? The great thing about working this muscle is that you’ll get better at using it on your own work, too.
- Discover the writer’s intention: What does the writer think they’ve written? Is that what came across on the page? Take into account genre, intended ‘platform’, purpose behind the script etc. If it’s a low-budget feature with Marvel-level effects, that’s helpful to point out. If it’s a slasher horror, it might not rely so deeply on character arc and truth – but do tell them if it’s not scary. Your feedback should help to make it better – not just different or as you would write it.
- Be constructive: You want the writer to come up with their own solutions. One way to do this is to ask questions. Writers are, by and large, problem-solving machines and questions are a great way of presenting a problem as something to be solved. It can be helpful – especially for clarity – to have an example fix or two to the problems you’re identifying. (But! Don’t take it personally if these aren’t used in the rewrite and definitely don’t try to rewrite a script in feedback notes.)
- Tailor your notes to the development stage: Understand what stage the script is at, and tailor your feedback accordingly. Is it an early draft that the writer knows has big problems, or are they looking for a proof-read before sending to a producer tomorrow?
- Order your thinking: Try to order your thoughts so that they flow. Start with your biggest notes and leave small, nit-picky notes to the end – you might decide not to give these at all. Remember: you don’t have to share every thought you have about a script.
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats
We don’t know what hopes and dreams, past hurts or present fears might be bound up in the script you’ve just read. The insights you’ve gathered may be brilliant but unless you can share them in a way that leaves the recipient feeling positive about addressing the issues you raise it may end up falling on defensive ears. Try to craft your response with the following in mind:
- Compassion: A writer may have solicited your feedback but that doesn’t mean you should go stomping in – put yourself in their shoes, be sensitive and recognise how hard they’ve worked to get to the script to this stage.
- Mention the positives: Your feedback will likely focus on the things that need changing and improving but don’t forget to mention all the things you enjoyed about it!
- Ask questions: Skilled feedback-giving is more about asking the right questions than it is dictating a set of notes and fixes. Identifying the right questions to enable the writer to see where there is a gap between their intention and what’s on the page lies at the heart of giving good feedback.
- Encourage: Just because this draft hasn’t quite executed the writer’s vision doesn’t mean that they can’t get it there. Share your excitement of how good the script could be with a bit (or a lot) of work.
Does that sounds like a lot of work? It can be. Done well, feedback can take time (although you do get faster with practice).
But we promise that giving feedback is not only a great skill to have when you’re working as a professional writer; it’s also a great way to:
- develop relationships with peers
- find collaborators
- develop your own craft
- play a part in the writer’s journey towards a polished draft
So get out there, get giving feedback and build your network, your craft and your analytical skills. Good luck!