Tough love for writers

You give it, and you get it. Since Saturday’s group meeting I’ve given tough love (otherwise known as harsh critique) to three writers – two of whom sucked it up with great grit and thanked me. Haven’t heard back from the third yet!

And I’ve got it. My screenplay is being torn apart on the Zoetrope Screenplay Wing. It’s not universally hated, at least one person thought it wasn’t terrible, but mainly the critique has been harsh indeed. And I’ve sucked it up and said thank you.

If you want to improve as a writer, harsh critique is a necessary part of your toolkit. Friends support you, but impartial critiquers tell you the honest truth. In my case, my formatting was lousy and I’ve got to work on it. My speeches are too long (a common failing in people who move from short stories to screenwriting) and I’d used at least two conventions from writing for radio that are not acceptable in screenplay scripts.

I’m glad to be told all this, because I can’t improve unless I know where I’m going wrong – and I’d rather hear it in a workshop setting than from the glorious A.L. Kennedy to whom I shall be sending the offending (and in one reviewer’s view offensive!) screenplay next week.

Of course you have to use your own judgement: every single reviewer has doubted the ‘commercial appeal’ of my script, but then, every single reviewer is an American and it’s a very British story, so I’m unworried by their concerns in that area. Several reviewers objected to the long speeches, which is interesting in light of the monologues in recent films like Last King of Scotland and There Will be Blood, but I shall wait and see what other people say before cutting down my speeches – try telling Mike Leigh that dialogue should never exceed four lines. But the formatting is entirely my fault, and I am spending half an hour at a time putting it right. It’s a lousy job, which is why I’ve also been making bread: there’s nothing like a good bit of kneading to reconcile you to a bit of harshness.

Tough love rolls, baked today, very nice hot with butter!

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