Saturday, September 12, 2009
I will not read your effing script!
Josh Olson, writing in the Village Blog, has produced a wonderful rant called "I will not read your effing script".
He tells the story of a friend whose boyfriend has written a screenplay. This friend, who is clearly female, persuaded him to agree to review it. Worse still, he was persuaded to be honest, the dreadful things women persuade us to do.
Apparently, it was dire.
Olsen sat down and wrote three pages of critique of the first few paragraphs. He tossed that away as he rightly felt that it would not help. Instead he composed a tactful over view pointing out that the story was incoherent, badly paced, and was badly written in a technical sense (grammar, spelling etc).
He received one line back from the would-be writer "Thanks for your opinion." Later he discovered that the couple were rubbishing him to anyone who would listen.
I have been extremely fortunate in having a truly successful professional author give an honest critique of my work. Without this person, and others like him, I would be nowhere.
My friend says that the reason he is willing to squander his valuable time reading my work is because (i) I listen to his comments AND ACCEPT THEM, (ii) I go away and think about them carefully and (iii) I do my incompetent best to follow his advice.
What really puzzles me is that this response should be considered unusual. I am a professional academic and I have published more than seventy five papers through the peer review system. Taking criticism constructively is an essential component of the academic's tool box if one proposes to have a career. Most would-be writers have not benefited from this discipline.
So, here are my pointers from my own experience.
1. A professional writer's professional time is valuable. When you ask one to criticise your draft you are asking him or her to work at his craft for you for nothing. If by some miracle, a professional agrees to advise you then for God's sake be very grateful. You are entitled to nothing.
2. Learn to write a decent sentence. You do not to need to be an engineer to drive a car but you had better bloody well have engineering skills if you intend to design one. Your creative teacher at school was talking bollocks when she said that technical writing skills were irrelevant to art.
3. Have you a story to tell? No, be honest.
4. Do the very best job on the manuscript you can before you send it anywhere near a professional. Anything less is an insult.
5. Do not bother to tell the professional why his criticism is invalid. If he does not understand why your draft is near perfect then neither will anyone else. Don’t waste his time with your amateur ideas about story construction, writing styles or characterisation. If you want encouragement and praise then show it to your mates who can be guaranteed to tell you sweet little lies.
And I wish you good luck because you will need it.
PS The pic is from a production of Romeo & Juliet acted on a mat on the dockside outside HMS Gannet at Chatham. Minimal props, no special effects, just a fine bunch of actors and a bloody good script.