As writers, it’s really hard not to get too close to your work. And it should be! If you’re not getting too close to it then there’s no blood going to it, either.
But there are some things that we find it incredibly hard to spot in our own writing because in our heads all the work is done already. Sharing your work is absolutely essential.
My writing group, Kites and Violence, has been running for nearly four years now and these are some of the notes that get given out time and time again (including to me!):
1) Are my characters engaging?
Without good characters, no matter what else is going on, scripts just don’t work. So all good writers make sure that they have a fascinating character before they ever start writing. The problem is, that all the nuance of those characters isn’t necessarily coming through in your pages.
You as the writer already know everything there is to know about your character. It’s impossible to unknow all your backstory, and that can make it extremely difficult to figure out what impression your characters are making.
So, script readings are essential for writers to get a feel for how fresh eyes are responding to their work, and why when it comes to shooting your own scripts, a big chunk of rehearsal time can make all the difference in the world. MORE: 7 Steps To Organise A Script Reading
2) How Is the Exposition Working?
Exposition is something that almost no writers get right on the first try. Writers already know the information that they’re passing on to their readers, which means pitching that information right is tricky.
First drafts are often very difficult to follow because writers forget to explain the minutia of what’s going on. What’s even worse is when writers are aware of this problem, and counteract it by laying the exposition on so thickly that their scripts become tiresome and hard to get through.
This is particularly a problem in sci-fi scripts, where there are often strange new concepts to get across, while also making sure the conversations are something someone who lived in that world would have, ie. if Earth was destroyed hundreds of years ago, then characters probably wouldn’t still be having conversations about how it happened.
At every step of the way, try to ask yourself whether people who don’t already know all the circumstances could understand what’s happening, and if they can, try to think of organic ways to get that information across. Again, getting other writers or actors to take a look at your work makes a huge difference. MORE: How Does Exposition Work? AKA 9 Common Exposition Qs Answered
3) Is too much going on?
Most of the time when writing scripts, it takes longer to think through an idea and figure out the structure of what’s going to happen than it does to actually write the pages down.
But all this time to think can leave you with a huge array of ideas to try to fit into a single script. To you these ideas are all connected, and thematically relevant because they’re what made you want to write the project in the first place, but it can become overwhelming to readers when there are too many concepts to grasp at once.
Of course there are certain scripts where this works as part of the appeal of the script, but the best scripts tend to set out with a mission in mind and stick to it. MORE: All About Theme
4) Do I Have Any “Blind Spots”?
Speaking of things that don’t fit, this one doesn’t quite belong here because these aren’t things writers can’t spot, they’re things writers don’t want to spot!
These are the moments in your script that you’re not quite sure about. They don’t quite fit, but you keep them anyway because you like them, you think they’re funny, or they remind you of a film or book you really like.
In my experience, writers usually already know these chunks need removing, but can’t quite bring themselves to do it. And that’s fine, it’s ok to have these things in your first drafts, it’s your job to like what you’ve written, but they almost always get spotted in readings or rehearsals.
Every single month at our meetings somebody says “I wasn’t sure about this bit” and the writer replies “Yeah I know”. If something is sticking out to you, it probably shouldn’t be there and if you can’t trust your own instincts, then at least trust other people’s. MORE: 2 Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts
5) Where Are My Typos?
“Boooo! Doesn’t count, we already knew this one!” I know. But it really is true, so much so that psychologists have written a huge array of studies on why we can’t spot small mistakes in our own work.
For this one, luckily, you don’t necessarily need to bring in a group of people to help you spot them. We’re much better at spotting these mistakes when we hear them than we do just by reading them, so my tip for this is to get hold of software that reads your work aloud.
It always sounds sort of ridiculous, and hearing your dialogue read by robots or the guy that announced the Tube closures on the London Underground can be gruelling, but it really makes a difference when it comes to spotting typos in your work. MORE: 10 Common Errors In Your Writing You Need To Fix Right Now
If you can’t find a good writing group near you, one of the great things about screenwriting is you have a huge community around you, most of whom are more than happy to help each other out, even if it’s only people you meet through twitter or websites like B2W. Use them, find people you trust and never be afraid to ask for help! MORE: Connecting With Writers, Filmmakers & Agents Online
BIO: Sandy is the head writer at Box Room Films, and wrote Cabu Cabu, the Nigerian remake of the HBO series, In Treatment. Box Room Films are currently raising money for two new short films. If you want to help, CLICK HERE and/or attend The London Film Quiz! Follow him on twitter at @Sandy_Nicholson.
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