Even if you have never been to an Adrian Mead class, there’s a good chance you will have heard of the famous Power of 3: it’s bandied about in The Scribosphere as bloggers appeal for each other to help them with their work. And why not? It’s a good way of getting feedback, for free. Whilst I’m never one to do myself out of a job, I do happen to believe that writers should get the best value for their money. Whilst there are always writers who prefer to work with Readers from that very first words-on-paper draft (and why not if they have the spandoolies?), I happen to think it works best for most writers if they work through the more obvious plot-hole/character-motivation stuff before sending to a service like Bang2write that will concentrate on the hardcore, in-depth stuff like problems with Deus Ex Machinas, structural issues, etc – if for no other reason than most people don’t have hundreds to spend on a draft, knocking it back and forth between rewrites and a professional Reader.

But anyway. The notion of asking 3 separate people to read your work and give you feedback. Is a simple one. Isn’t it?

Well actually, there is a technique to it. That’s why I’ve posted Adrian’s handout from his classes today (below this post). The Power of 3 is not about finding 3 people to read your script and them telling you what they think of it. That way trouble can lie, as this email to me demonstrates:

I did that power of 3 thing – I couldn’t believe it! She was so rude! She practically told me it had all beeen done before and that I should basically go back to the drawing board or give up!

The notion of asking questions as your feedback is a good one, since it can avoid this kind of confrontation. Now, I intervened between these two ladies and they have since kissed and made up (hence my posting the fragment of that original email, thanks girls), but do remember you could be treading on someone else’s dreams: rather than saying you didn’t like something in a script, first ask yourself if you would like to hear this. There will always be scripts in the world you don’t like. The people behind these scripts are real, they’ve poured hours into this – and besides, even if you don’t like it, who is to say you are the arbiter of good taste and the authority on whether the writer in question should go back to the drawing board? Okay, you might think it sucks worse than a…sucky thing… but how would you like it if someone told you that? And it’s no good just saying it’s “just your opinion” either: whether something’s your opinion or not, careless words can hurt. As writers, we know this.

It’s worth remembering too there are cultural differences, even between those who speak the same language. Just as males and females *can* react differently to the same feedback, Americans and Brits can have different ways of saying the same thing. For example, I was interested to learn from one American associate that it’s thought in the US qualifying constructive criticism with phrases like “In my opinion…” is redundant, since obviously it’s their opinion: they’re saying it! However, at school us Brits are taught that we must use these redundant phrases, for fear of being thought unnecessarily direct or rude. Similarly, different countries in Europe have different ideals: from my time as a TEFL teacher I was shocked by some of the Austrians’ behaviour in my class, because they would tell their classmates they were “the best” all the time every time they did well in a test. Never having met an Austrian before, I found it confusing that they behaved like this until a more experienced TEFL teacher told me that in Austria self modesty is thought of as absolutely ridiculous and they subscribe very much to the notion of “blow your own trumpet, since no one else will do it for you.” Suddenly my students’ behaviour became more understandable and less irritating – just like that.

A Power of 3 does not last forever either, as this irate emailer points out:

I read his script and he read mine, fair do’s… Difference between us is he keeps sending it back with every rewrite! I told him I didn’t have time, then tried ignoring him, but he just keeps emailing and emailing…

I think it’s great that writers no longer hold on to their scripts for fear of their ideas being “nicked” like they seemed to when I started as a Reader five years ago, but now the balance seems to have been tipped the other way: I’ve heard several writers complain of having similar things happen to them. Before sending your script out to people, ask yourself: is it solicited?? For example, I have several e-friends and real-life friends that I know I can always rely on to read my stuff, since I always read theirs. However, I have just as many that I would always ask first, each time I want to do a PO3 – usually people I have never met in real life.

So – the moral of this tale? A little courtesy and a little empathy go a long way.

Sermon over. Now read Adrian’s handout below.

Amen.

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23 Responses to Power of 3 Ruckus

  1. The Artiste says:

    Hah! I told Anya she was doing it wrong.

  2. Anya says:

    Babes, you do EVERYTHING wrong.

  3. Lucy says:

    Now, now – we don’t want to go down the divorce courts as a result of ANY PO3′s, thanks.

  4. Eat my shorts says:

    What in the name of hell is a “spandoolie”?

  5. Lucy says:

    Y’know: cash. money. moolah. readies.

    Are you lot camping out on my blog or what? Seems like I post and you all come crawling out the woodwork…

  6. Elinor says:

    Adrian’s right. PO3 raises your game. Thanks for this Lucy.

  7. the artiste says:

    Oh come on. You gotta feel sorry for me: Anya’s idea of concrit is saying, “And this character does WHAT? Are you INSANE? THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!”

    Mind you, she told me she would never marry me either, so revenge is mine…forever!!

  8. Jason Arnopp says:

    Even though the ‘asking questions’ technique is very worthwhile indeed, and one which I tend to employ, I also think we writers have to develop thick skins – whether we consciously decide to do so, or as the natural result of repeated batterings.

    Look at it this way – if someone’s critique rings true, then great, they’ve just helped you. If it doesn’t, then forget it! Also watch out for the regular phenomenon of choosing to forget it, then realising that they were right all along – generally while you’re trying to sleep, somewhere around 2.59am…

  9. Lucy says:

    I’m surprised sometimes by clients who get upset about my reports. I’m never heavy or vitriolic and always try to be encouraging (without engendering false hopes, obviously) and I like to think that’s why most come back to me multiple times (watch it on the double entendres, you). However, sometimes people get upset – and not in the “how dare you” way, but the “Oh god, it’s like I always suspected, I’m crap!” way. And I have to talk them off the scriptwriting window ledge before they JUMP INTO THE NEVER-WRITING-AGAIN ABYSS.

    I’d argue those writers need a thicker skin. However those writers are rare in my experience. Most writers I find take responsibility for their own work and are pretty receptive to feedback that is well-couched and justifiable.

    In short, no one likes to be told they’re shit or WRONG because of the way they’ve handled a particular story or scene. Why should they? Besides anything, I would argue getting feedback is not about getting approval: who’s “right” anyway? Makes no sense to me.

  10. Steve says:

    [It should be "spondulicks" which is late 19th century american slang for money.]

    I hadn’t heard the “phrase as a question” trick that’s quite cute, the website for Critters (www.critters.org) — which is the biggest active online critiquing group for SF/F/H — has several articles on how to critique without raising hackles.

    I’d already worked out the “only those things commented on by several people need attention” principle and it’s stood me in good stead. If one person says it, not interested, if two then take a look, if three or more: “Danger Will Robinson!”

    Personally, I thought your notes were almost too soft, Lucy, but years of magazine writing and getting viciously attacked by writers and magazine readers (plus the guy who read my novel and sent me wodges of “this is terrible, useless, boring, predictable” notes has given me rhino skin.

  11. Lucy says:

    Yes, I did realise: spandoolies is the bastardised version. Or possibly my version. Jury’s out on that one.

    Thanks for the link Steve – but my notes were TOO SOFT?? You cheeky little *$%”¬£*! I will gut you like a fish!

    Only kidding. I liked your script. So STICK IT UP YOUR ARSE!

    Does that make you feel better?

  12. James Moran says:

    Blimey. If people can’t handle the PO3 feedback, wait until they get a paying gig where the person has no need to be polite to you at all. Thrill! at the story-destroying “idea” the exec has just had. Quiver! at how they’re willing to throw out your entire main plot as soon as look at you. And that’s before the director even gets involved. Get a thick skin, and get one now, because the PO3 will seem like oral pleasure compared to what comes later. It’s good for your script, and good for getting used to people not falling over themselves to stroke your ego. Be a rhino!

  13. Lucy says:

    Every writer with a paying gig has at least one tale of being completely shafted royally. But the PO3 is a “safe” environment in which to get used to getting feedback – everyone’s prickly and defensive about their work when they first start. So if people are horrible from the start then, we’re going to have some mega-twisted writers walking around!! From small acorns and all that…

  14. Oli says:

    PO3 is safe-ish, but nice comments do me no good. When I first put a screenplay up on Zoetrope, my first review was a rave. I was, of course, euphoric. The next review was more measured, pointed out stuff that was weak in the script, and I got a bit grumpy.

    But, but, but, which review resulted in me making changes to script, improving it vastly? The second. And third. And fourth. Even the really really mean fifth one.

    So come on, people, I can take it.

  15. Steve says:

    I feel much better now I’ve been insulted.

  16. Lucy says:

    Argh. PO3′s are not about being nice to people!

    They are about giving measured, justifiable feedback that the writers in question can compare and weigh up.

    What I’m saying is there is no need to be nasty! It is possible to give useful reviews without resorting to personal insults or vitriolic crap.

    However, if people want ME to insult them, as Steve clearly does, bring it on ; )

  17. Piers says:

    Spondoolicks, where I come from. But that’s by-the-by.

    There’s only one thing that’s relevant: does the note point out something that the reader thinks is wrong with the script?

    So, to take the example that’s in play: has the whole thing been done before? If so, then it’s a valid note. You suck as a writer isn’t a valid note.

    Consider valid notes. Ignore invalid notes.

    Either way, there’s a very simple solution: if the notes a reader gives aren’t useful to you, don’t use that reader again.

    If you take bad notes personally, it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

  18. adrian Mead says:

    Hi Everyone

    Lucy has been kind enough to post the details of the Power Of 3 method, however there still seems to be some confusion about certain elements.

    As Lucy stated, it’s not just about being nice (though it’s always a good rule to follow.)

    Being thick skinned is an essential part of your survival kit if you want to work in the screenwriting industry. However that isn’t what this process is about. Nor is it about trying to be “nice” for the sake of avoiding hurting people’s feelings.

    I spent a long time working out a FAST, EFFECTIVE and HASSLE FREE feedback method for writers to be able to share and in order to ensure their SAMPLE SCRIPTS are UNIQUE. I hope the following finally clears up any confusion.

    1. You need feedback from 9 people to maximise the effectiveness of this method. That means it needs to be a HASSLE FREE PROCESS for those giving feedback.

    You want to build a circle of feedback people you can return to with each new script. That’s what THE POWER OF 3 is all about. It’s much QUICKER and EASIER to ask questions than write comments/suggestions.

    The result is quick turnaround of feedback. EVERYONE wants this.

    2. QUESTIONS are good. SUGGESTIONS are bad for a number of reasons.

    a) Writers will ALWAYS ask for clarification when you give suggestions.
    This means MORE HASSLE for feedback people.

    b) Or they get miffed about the content and critique. This means one less person available for giving feedback on your projects.
    Their reaction could be promted by many things other than just your comments (we all have bad days) but it is less likely to happen with questions.

    c) By sticking to the QUESTIONS ONLY and utilising the 9 people rule the writer always moves on to someone else for feedback with their new draft.

    This stops them continually coming back for clarification on your SUGGESTIONS or asking for more feedback.

    d) At this stage in your career you are trying to find YOUR VOICE. You are trying to write great SAMPLE SCRIPTS that show YOUR TAKE ON THE WORLD.

    You are NOT writing a script as decided on by a council meeting. This will happen to you every waking day of your life as a professional screenwriter. But you won’t even get there if you don’t get used to FINDING YOUR OWN ANSWERS.

    That’s what QUESTIONS force you to do. They point out a problem You then have to think about how YOU want to solve that problem. Hopefully it will be in your own utterly unique and original way. That is what will make your script stand out.

    When a professional writer is given notes/suggestions some of them will be stinkers. However you can’t ignore them. You have to look at the gist of the note and come up with YOUR OWN ANSWERS, something that will address the problem and keep you and the exce happy. That’s what this method helps train you to do.

    And finally, PLEASE, don’t take the following as an insult as it is said with the best intentions.

    The fact is you do not want SUGGESTIONS from other writers because the vast majority of those individuals are no more qualified than you are. In most cases all they are doing is giving you THEIR version of your script, These may be perfectly valid. However, if they haven’t made it yet why are you going to go with their idea over yours?

    This is all about getting a circle of positive, aspiring writers to QUICKLY cast a fresh eye over each others scripts and spot things they have missed or aspects that are confusing or unfullfilling. They can pin point those problems with QUESTIONS and give each other a quick response.

    When you hire a professional and highly experienced script reader you can start looking at suggestions and alternatives, as by this time you have thoroughly shaped and stamped the script with your take on the world.

    Hope this clears things up

    Adrian

  19. Lucy says:

    I concur.

    Wading through suggestions can be a bitch, since there’s a good chance that people will all have different ones – whose do you write? Which is the “best”? Is yours? A writer then goes back to his/her feedback peeps, wants stuff clarifying, etc – then you’re stuck in a PO3 circle forever, like that emailer.

    However, if everyone has the same question about a particular point – ie. everyone was confused/unconvinced/whatever at that point in your script – then there you have a clear starting point to polish your script.

    Script editors are the people for suggestions, alternate endings, etc. PO3′s are for making your draft coherent and polished.

  20. Jason Arnopp says:

    Luce: that told you, punk! Etc. ;-)

  21. Lucy says:

    I’m agreeing with Adrian! I don’t need telling!

    That’s it. There’s a load of bloggers out there that need re-educating.

    I’m starting with you, Arnopp…

  22. Jason Arnopp says:

    Kidding, ribbing and hilarity aside, the questions format for PO3 feedback is indeed the best. As Adrian says, if someone’s suggestion boils down to their personal taste not tallying with yours – or if it’s fundamentally based on how THEY would write it, because they see the world differently – then it’s probably not helping you forge your own vision.

    Unless, of course, how they’d write it is way better than how you’d do it. :)

  23. Lucy says:

    Yeah, but how can you tell if they have a different world vision to yours?

    There’s a philosophical Q for you…

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