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What to do with divergent notes?

Forums Forums General Writing Rewriting What to do with divergent notes?

This topic contains 13 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  AdamJCohen 1 year, 8 months ago.

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    I’m polishing a script at the moment, and I’ve asked a lot of people for notes (including a lot of BlackBoarders). Most of the notes broadly agree with one another, but one set is completely out of step with all the others: not quite “Throw it out and start again”, but not far off it.

    I suppose logically I should stick with the majority opinion, but I can’t quite shake the paranoia that the harsh notes might be right and I’m ignoring them from laziness…

    What do other people do about strongly divergent opinions on their work?


    Tor Dollhouse

    I would love to read it !!




    I once had a guy tell me that a sample of my work was unreadable, even though a number of real-life working screenwriters told me was actually pretty good. In order words you have to consider who is making the comments.

    I’d consider the outlier under one of three conditions:

    1. The outlier is a respected pro and the majority not close to being at their level (for example, Scott’s or Martin Scorseses’ notes vs notes from random readers on this board).
    2. If your outlier has something interesting to say about an issue that your other readers have identified. Have they gotten you to think?
    3. The outlier is the one who actually gets what you’re trying to do.

    As a reader I feel it’s my obligation to be as honest as possible, even though my opinion is really a set of  “how I would write this” comments. And you have to take that prism into account.

    otoh, I refuse to pander to someone who just really wants a pat on the head.  You may disagree with my notes, but as long as I’ve gotten you to think about the script decisions you made, then I’m doing the right thing.


    Shaula Evans

    I react in a similar way, Debbie: the harsher the note, the more determined I am not to shy away from it. …and in the process I drive myself crazy…

    Does the note move you forward in your work? Does it serve your vision for the story? Does it grasp your intention for the story? Does the writer know what s/he is talking about and do you respect his/her opinion generally? Does any part of the notes stem from gender/regional/cultural differences?

    Just because an opinion is loud doesn’t make it right.

    I applaud you for taking unpleasant notes seriously. Is there an opportunity to look for “the note beneath the note” and use this set of notes to dig in and write the script that *you* want to write?

    I went through exactly this with notes on my sitcom pilot and it was maddening.



    plinytheelder_t’s questions sound like a great way to gauge whether you should take the outlier seriously or not.




    Thanks, everyone! Lots to think about here…




    I had that happen to me on my last script, it was dizzying and drove me insane. But, I think what I took from that experience is to choose my readers carefully and by that I don’t mean the one who agree with me, no, but ones who will be able to give me advice and notes that serve the story, my story, and help me take it to a better place.

    You can disagree with the notes. Disregard them. I tend to take them on and work even harder the worst the notes are but it can also take away from your story when you start taking what everyone else has to say and end up with something you didn’t intend.

    On the other hand, I took your advice on my last script and even though for a moment it felt entirely daunting, I ended up with a far better script than I started with.

    At the end of the day, you own the story and you have the final say in what you want to change, keep or throw out. Stay true to that. :)



    Good point. (I should probably also mention these notes were NOT from anyone on the Black Board, in case anyone was wondering…)   :)



    Debbie I’d love to read it too.

    And echo above, if they have made you question and raise your game with some section of the script and with a view to improving it, fair enough.

    If it’s just criticism for criticism’s sake and there’s no constructive take-away, then leave it. Although easier said than done.

    I liken pure debilitating criticism to looking at a fabulous painting of a poppy field and a viewer asking, why is it not blue, I can’t see the sky, there should be more birds.

    I pick up my painting. And. Walk. Away.

    I think about including a little bit of sky. Ponders. Nope it needs more poppies. Fingerpaints poppy. :-)


    Kevin T. Morales

    The real trouble with notes, no matter who they are from, is you can’t really know what is good until you apply them.

    I had a script a few years back that a lot of folks really liked and I was working through issues and then an agent got Chris McQuarrie to gave me notes and they were completely different than everyone else’s, but I thought, I’d be stupid to not take his advice. I wrote an alternate draft taking his notes as from on high, and I learned a ton from doing an alternate draft. In the end, his notes was not the movie I was intending to make,  but I still kept some of the material that came out of that experiment. To this day if someone gives me some crazy notes, I will copy a scene or pages from my current draft into a new doc and I will play “what if”. What if I HAD to take these notes. Can I make it work? And very often I am surprised at the results. Results I couldn’t see until I tried.

    This is easy to do in directing. In a take or a rehearsal you can say to the actors, “do the opposite of what you’re doing” and things can be revealed, and you can keep some or all of it, or ignore it, but now you know what not to do. Sometimes we can get fixated on getting something perfect, and not seeing the other possibilities.



    I may take people up on the read offers, once I’ve finished implementing the other notes…  :)



    One thing that I learnt from getting notes from strangers is that there’s a lot of people who will just be destructive. I got some notes from a guy whose notes were just oozing jealousy in a hilarious way, but ironically he was so committed to show that everything about my script was wrong that he was the only one who noticed some typos that no one else detected. So yeah, use the rotten material you get as manure.



    Manure! :)   Good advice…



    It’s funny, whatever notes you get, however extreme, you can only use the ones you agree with. My point is, you can’t write what you don’t believe in.

    I had some notes on a script a few months ago, the reader made a point that (I knee jerked and) couldn’t buy in to. Only a long time later, my mind had wrapped it’s self around the suggestion. I was able to write it, but only when I believed it. As you all know when you write something without your heart in it, it shows.

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