005 – Who Are You Writing For?

In this episode I give into some frustration and basically have a controlled rant for about fifty minutes. Essentially bringing up topics that aggravate me about how people will judge scripts.   There are quite a few I didn’t even cover.  Ultimately what I’m attempting to hone in on are all these things writers and their scripts are up against that they can’t control, nor for which they can prepare.

The vast amounts of expectations that people have for scripts that they read are endless.  Thus, I propose that writers should write the stories they want, the way they want.  I even have the audacity to suggest that certain readers should conduct their reads according to the medium in which they are being consumed.  For example, if you are an amateur writer in a screenwriting forum, don’t attempt to wear all these industry hats and give feedback that you think may be in line with them. If you’re a writer yourself, give the writer of the script what they are truly in need of, an honest assessment of their work and how you think they may improve it.  Be critical, be constructive, but above all anything else, make the feedback useful.

This is certainly an opinion piece if there ever was one, however, I use actual examples for people in the industry to support my claims and push back towards “garbage” advice or concerns for screenwriters.

While my beliefs are strong, and supported, I realize that I haven’t heard all experiences/situations that are exceptions. If you have had any of these experiences, please share them in the comments section.  Make me aware of the other POVs that are out there.  The whole point is to assist other writers, as well as myself, with as much useful information as possible while reducing time wasting, fear based assertions.

***CORRECTION: I state in this episode that you should listen to Scriptnotes Episode 264: The One With The Agent, however, it has been archived and the only access to it is with a Scriptnotes Premium subscription.  The subscription is only $1.99/mo and worth it, in my opinion. If you don’t wish to subscribe, I will put a link to the episode’s transcript in the Show Notes below.  Sorry for the mistake.***

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  • Scott Serradell

    So.

    The reason I come to any screenwriting website is conversation — and if I’m lucky, some comradery. The vocation — the craft if you will — demands the writer spend a substantial amount of time in a vacuum of their own making, pounding out on the keyboard what the voices in their mind demands of them. It can get lonely, and your imagination — capable of amazing flights of inspiration and ideas — can equally become susceptible to fear and uncertainty.

    It is only natural — especially when you are starting out in all this — is to heed the advice of others: Others you feel qualified to dish out the goods. They may have a resume, a reputation, a book, a lecture series, a website — whatever. Above all, they present themselves as having certainty. They…have answers; they KNOW something you do not. They can steer you, by the gracious attributes of their wisdom, to the material realization of your dreams…

    Bullshit.

    Everything is grown by guidance, but nothing is made with promises. By trial and error the writer takes all the advice shouted to him and blends it into his own knowledge — and that advice is sometime a swamp they must traverse, sometimes it’s quicksand, and sometimes it can be a straight shot to the other side. EVERYTIME…you must obey what your heart tells you: Is this right? Is this for me? Is this what I want to do? And that’s what a good teacher will tell you: Learn to listen to your heart. A bad one will only tell you to listen to them.

    Mike, you ask: “Are we talking about writing, or are we talking about story?” I say it’s about storytelling! A good story told well; that’s really it. At that point loglines, number of lines in a paragraph, and even page numbers don’t even matter. Any reader just wants to be told a story. And any writer has heard thousands of them — But which ones has he REMEMBERED? Which ones inspired them to write…

    Mike, you say: “…like we’re trying to restrict some of that…we give the appearance that we fit into the norm.” Well, naturally; we are not raised to be ourselves; we must LEARN that ourselves, if we choose to do so. For me, the most important point of being a writer — or perhaps a being a human — was when I said: Fuck it — Fuck it, and fuck everything; I no longer need the world outside, just the one inside. The universe is an indifferent and cruel master…and from this point on I am my own light.

    A HARD lesson; years in the making. But what’s the alternative? Who’s the other person’s life I’m suppose to be living?

    Mike, you say: “Create your own opportunities.” Right on. That’s it. Find your friends, find your support system, and cut out the middle man. Figure out what you want to say and say it — as clearly and honestly as you can. People will respond to what is true. And, as you say Mike: “Don’t put stock in people who won’t put stock in you.” And with that: Amen.

    • Linkthis83

      “Fuck it” was my epiphany moment as well, in regards to writing. Great post, man.

  • Patrick Sawyer

    Just wanted to say that so far these podcasts have been very insightful. It’s nice to hear your views on screenwriting, Mike. And the interviews bring good variety.

    If and when you do start reviewing amateur scripts I’m willing to chime in with my thoughts that will mostly be based on the logline and how I think the industry will feel about the writing. 😉

    • Linkthis83

      Thx, Patrick. I’ll just have to assume you’re a studio executive then, and I’m honored to have you here!

      I’ve considered leaving out the loglines when I post scripts 🙂

  • grendl

    Should people be encouraged to become screenwriters? I mean professional screenwriters working in the business, supporting themselves through their writing.

    Let me ask this first for some perspective. Should people be encouraged to play in the NBA?

    I mean the masses, should there be a blanket endorsement for people who love playing basketball and watching the NBA to pursue their dream of actually becoming a professional, paid because of their exceptional ability?

    If you saw some 5′ 7″ guy with a paunch and a 2″ vertical leap banging around a city basketball court, even if he made the occasional hoop would you tell him to chase that dream?

    I don’t believe most of the people on Script Shadow can write pro caliber screenplays. I’ve seen rare instances of it. And it’s usually apparent on the first page whether or not they’re in control of their script, of the language, of the format even with the aid of Final Draft, and the answer is usually no.

    And if they have those things down, they often don’t understand tonal consistency, thematic consideration, momentum shifts, narrative tricks that must be employed to hook the reader and keep them riveted to a story.

    I see self indulgence, lack of any editorial effort, purple flourishes which have no use in a blueprint to a movie ( nor in any prose or poetry for that matter ). People so desperate to pass themselves off as writers who lack anything remotely interesting to say because they haven’t done enough living in the real world or engaging with disparate types of people to make their work ring with any resonance or clarity.

    If one undertook to become a writer at age 22 when they weren’t doing it throughout their childhood, I can see that in their writing. It’s like someone who just learned to play the piano. A love for storytelling is something that originates in a writer’s childhood. Not just listening to stories and watching movies and television, but a burning desire to enthrall and entertain audiences or readers.

    I find there to be a severe lack of respect for writing in general, not only in the amateur community, but in Hollywood as well where mediocre writing, even horrible writing often gets a greenlight because of a marketable premise.

    I won’t name names, even though you alluded to some in your podcast.

    BTW it’s your choice whether or not you continue the podcast, but really you should ask yourself who are you doing it for?

    If you’re not getting anything out of it, it would make little sense to continue.

    If you’re doing it to help others, then it’s already doing that.

    My only real advice is not to apologize so much for your viewpoints. If thats what you call an angry rant, well, I find that amusing as FUUUUUCK.

    I know an angry rant when I hear one. To you I guess that’s the equivalent of a Howard Beal-esque “Network” diatribe but it came across as very polite and restrained to me.

    Don’t be afraid to unleash the beast if that’s your impulse. Makes for good podcast. Just ask Adam Carolla.

    I think anything worth doing is worth sticking with through the beginning phases, much like writing a script. It’s easy to watch the downloads and obsess about them, and its natural to second guess yourself, but Jesus Christ it’s in its infancy. Carson’s blog sucked for the first…oh, two years before I got there.

    But it’s up to you. I find anything about writing and the business inherently fascinating. It would be nice to see some writers chime in once in awhile, but they seem to be a bit scared for some reason.

    Keep at it, I say.

    • Linkthis83

      “And if they have those things down, they often don’t understand tonal consistency, thematic consideration, momentum shifts, narrative tricks that must be employed to hook the reader and keep them riveted to a story.”

      I think one of the things that is contributing to this is the consumption of mass amateur scripts. That it gets lodged in their brains that their creations should meet, or attempt to exceed what they are seeing. As opposed to just pushing their material beyond.

      In regards to my apologies, I don’t feel I’m apologizing for my view, as much as my false sense of superiority. Calling back to when I say I feel responsible for my advice. I have a feeling as I get more comfortable, I will apologize less, curse more, etc.

      Right now I’m putting the emphasis on the downloads because that’s really the only metric I have. Aside from the few people I already know sending me support. Which I accept, but in the same way that I don’t know if they are just being supportive or if this thing really is off to a good start.

      I know why I’m doing this, I’m simply attempting to see if it’s landing with anyone whom I don’t know well. Like Patrick.

      And yep, it’s in its infancy, but I wanted to be transparent about the goals I set from the beginning and to update where they are currently at. I’m always going to be this mix of confidence and consideration. It’s my personality.

      Thanks for the feedback and the insights.

    • PQOTD

      “It would be nice to see some writers chime in once in awhile, but they seem to be a bit scared for some reason.”

      Couldn’t help it but this made me laugh, grendl. I can empathize with writers who do chime in and end up feeling like they’ve been hit by a train for the experience.

      I speak from AOW/AF experience, which, btw, told me what was and was not working, or could work better. Some of the advice was absolutely terrific and right on the money, some was crap, but those who offered both constructive criticism AND encouragement (i.e. Link) I very much appreciated.

      Still, the experience of throwing a polarizing, early draft of a very first script into the AOW ring was tough and daunting, and I had to put the damned thing down for two years before I could look at it and work on it again.

      But it wouldn’t let me go, and this year’s drafts have gotten solid 7s and 8s on Black List reads, and it got a 76 out of recent Slated reads, which’ll put it on their featured blog for May.

      Not all of us are naturally talented, but at least some of us can learn things like tonal consistency and momentum shifts – if we want it enough.

      • Kirk Diggler

        “Not all of us are naturally talented, but at least some of us can learn things like tonal consistency and momentum shifts – if we want it enough.”

        Agree with this. Screenwriting is NOT a natural thing. All the various components need to be etched into your brain in the same way a violinist’s fingers learn by thousands of hours of repetition.

        For me, the last thing to truly master is the most obvious, theme, and how to seamlessly integrate your theme into your story without hitting the reader over the head with it.

        • PQOTD

          Hear, hear, Kirk.

          I posted on SS a youtube link recently to a man who broke down just one Anthony Hopkins scene from ‘Westworld’.

          In that clip, there’s part of an older interview in which Hopkins states he’ll read a script some 200 times so the character’s etched into his brain, like the concert violinist learning every note.

          Two hundred times! That man earns his money, and it shows in his performances which are so nuanced and enthralling. He doesn’t do ‘near enough’ll be good enough.’

          Yet some writers don’t do more than a few drafts and re-writes, and then they turn their attention to cranking out some other not-particularly-memorable thing.

      • Linkthis83

        Have I ever noted one of your scripts? If so, I apologize for not remembering which one.

        • PQOTD

          Yeah, you have, and there’s no need to apologize! I’ll email you, Link.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Did you write the one about the female aviators?

            Nevermind…. just saw below.

          • PQOTD

            Uh-huh, and btw, there’s a named male character towards the end whose name is… Kirk Diggler.

            That was Grendl’s suggestion after we had a debate about the conventions of naming characters. Young Aircraftman Diggler’s been in there ever since.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Haha.

      • grendl

        It takes guts to post your work, knowing the trolls are out there and sharpening their knives to eviscerate it.

        Some people are genuine in their attempts at analysis, some just want to mock and humiliate.

        The problem with Script Shadow is that Carson never bothered to differentiate between the two camps. It was too difficult for him to tell, although it’s usually obvious who has an agenda to mock and demean people.

        My own critiques were always made in good faith, if a little harsh at times. When I see someone post absolute rubbish, with misspellings on the very first page, it drives me up the wall. These scripts supposedly have gone through extensive rewrites by the time they reach a screenwriting blog like SS, and you don’t bother to correct page one typos???

        Fucking ridiculous, really.

        It’s been my experience that there is such a thing as innate talent when it comes to writing. Some writers just have an ear for dialogue, a feel for the poetry of good writing which borders on lyrical when its done right.

        It comes from years of writing, and listening to how people act and speak. It takes careful observation. These days I get the feeling many younger writers are observing television and movies, and simply regurgitating what they’ve seen before onto the page.

        Also, I think a lot of people are afraid to lock themselves away in total solitude for hours, days, weeks at a time. In order to transport oneself into the world of the story, sometimes it’s necessary to blank out everything around the writer, including loved ones, and the endless thrum of the internet.

        Good writing transports the audience to that world and those characters, so a writer must go there first. And the problem is that can be a frightening prospect, totally shutting out all external input in order to let the brain just think. And imagine.

        Its a mindset that comes from being a loner, or feeling alone, and needing to create a world that makes sense. Often it comes out of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

        There is a writer’s temperament that isn’t often discussed on blogs like Carson’s, because he would like to believe, or like everyone to believe that everyone or anyone can write given the right instruction. They can’t.

        They have to have a writer’s mindset. An ability not only to dissect the frog , and label its constituent parts, but to create one from the ether and make it hop.

        It’s a rare talent and it should be.

        • Levres de Sang

          An excellent point as to people’s fear of solitude.

          For me, solitude has always been a primary motivating factor behind my desire to write / become a working writer. Of course, these days it’s very difficult to find and unless you’re fortunate enough to live on some rambling estate then you really have to go out of your way to achieve it. But you’re correct, the writer’s temperament is an aspect of writing that we rarely even consider let alone discuss on screenwriting blogs.

          • grendl

            One of the problems is that left brain analytical thinkers sometimes attempt to write screenplays, and because there’s this Save the Cat paradigm, a structured map of what a story should be, they think all they have to do is come up with a novel idea and construct a story.

            But right brained artists are the real storytellers. They can not only analyze, but also create something from nothing. And they’re not afraid to embark on a first draft and have it totally fail. They operate in open mode better than the overly analytical left brainers.

            Problem is the studios think like they do, that all you have to do is force story elements into the Save the Cat paradigm and you have a story. But those always seem rote, run of the mill, bereft any artistic daring or sense of abandon.

          • PQOTD

            If you ever have the time and inclination, Levres, try to find a copy of Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A room of one’s own.’ THere are probably excerpts on-line, if not the whole text. It’s probably public domain by now.

            Her argument was that because of the social and familial expectations put upon women (especially in her era of the early 20th century), few had the luxury of solitude and a personal, absolutely inviolable sanctuary in which to think deeply and to write.

            A room of one’s own such as a study or a library was the purview of educated men of at least the middle classes, but only available to very wealthy women, or those whose husbands were both wealthy and tolerant.

            Woolf made mention of a true story from the 1920s which underscored her argument: because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed into a library alone at one of the oldest UK universities – Oxford or Cambridge, I don’t recall which. This meant she could only access books if a male friend was prepared to escort her in, then wait around with her while she found what she wanted.

            My grandmother was of her generation. If J K Rowling had been born 50 years earlier, ‘Harry Potter’ might only ever have existed in her imagination.

            I’ll get to your other point below shortly. 🙂

          • PQOTD

            If I ever win the Lotto, I’ll be buying a rambling country estate for a writers’ retreat.

            There’ll be isolated little solar-powered huts set up for doing nothing else except looking at the view and writing, then big communal spaces back at the main house for brainstorming and discussing and watching movies.

        • PQOTD

          For me, I don’t think it was so much “guts” as cluelessness and not knowing where else to go for feedback. I had a great concept, but my execution was eye-bleedingly abominable, and I hadn’t read nearly enough scripts to realize just how awful it was.

          You were tough on me, grendl, but your criticisms were specific and on point, which is much more valuable to me than the vague and unhelpful ‘this script sucks’ criticism. Consequently, I have a great deal of respect for the guy behind the fanged avatar.

      • Levres de Sang

        You’ve got me curious! Any chance you could at least reveal the title of your script?

        • PQOTD

          Well, that’d give away everything, Levres, lol.

          I was going to save that little announcement for if it ever got optioned or sold, but my script’s name is ‘The Cloud Factory’.

          (I can almost see Grendl’s teeth bared and hear the snarl at its mention from all the way over here in ‘Straya, lol. I promise you all it’s a much better read than it was.)

          • Levres de Sang

            I remember that one — all 156 pages! 😉

          • PQOTD

            Yeah – I know *hangs head in shame*

            It’s at 120 now. Very different beast.

  • Levres de Sang

    A welcome episode. I enjoyed it very much and honestly felt a twinge of sadness at the possibility of things coming to an end after only ten episodes. So, to answer one question: Yes, I certainly am curious to see where this goes…

    As for the subject matter of 005, I said it was welcome because I’ve had similar thoughts in connection with one particular notion that flies around the amateur screenwriting community. Namely, that screenwriting is all about banging out first drafts in a matter of weeks. My frustration no doubt stems from the fact that my own script has been ‘almost’ finished for around five months — and that I’ve now spent two years working on it (in total). With this in mind, I think Gordy over at Bluecat made a pertinent observation in one of his short videos: “We just want the process to be over.” In other words, it sometimes feels like too much hard work and we’d rather call our script finished and move on to the next idea. As much as I like outlining, I feel it’s almost impossible to know everything about a story up front. Some of our best material, therefore, is material that we ADD much later on in the process. In my estimation, banging whole scripts out in a matter of weeks seems an unlikely route to achieving work of narrative depth.

    I actually think this notion also comes out of something you correctly identified when you said, “This isn’t the business — It’s an amateur screenwriting community.” It’s like amateur writers feel they have to replicate the timetables of professionals despite the fact that it’s NOT their full-time job. Indeed, when I first observed conversations on SS it often seemed like the word “amateur” was reserved as an insult rather than as a statement of the way things happen to be for most participants.

    I could go on, but I’d only end up ranting about a certain individual who has strong opinions on word count — and who will often declare those scripts with a word count less than 18,000 to be mere “scriptments”. So… let me end with something more positive. I absolutely loved the following statement: “Good writing will lead you to the event.” This really MUST be the title of a future episode!

    N.b. Mike: I WILL get back to your email, but many thanks for taking the time. Your “rebuttal” made perfect sense.

    • Linkthis83

      “This really MUST be the title of a future episode!”

      Great suggestion. Now I/we need to find the scripts that support this.

      When I first found SS and observed the way some people were giving feedback really motivated me to try and give back even just a small percentage of what the writer gave.

      I even did that with this one script that was so over my head. I had no business giving feedback:

      LET US TOUCH THE SUN

      • Levres de Sang

        I really appreciated that you embraced the tone of my script (although that makes it sound like I knew what I was doing — and I didn’t because I’m not sure I would have attempted it AFTER my discovery of the online screenwriting world).

        Interesting, too, that you mentioned a script called THE MILKY WAY because I still have that one saved. More to the point (and perhaps chiming with my post above) I’ve a recollection of the author saying in his WYSR that it was “a two-year labor of love”; but unfortunately I don’t recall it getting much attention — which was a shame because I liked it at the time.

        I know what you mean regarding “… the way some people were giving feedback.” It’s one reason why I lurked for two years before finally plunging into the conversation.

        • Linkthis83

          Well, if you recall, it was the 2nd time your script was featured that I actually embraced it 🙂 But I do feel that’s how we should read scripts. Let the writer do what they are trying to do and see how it affects us. Learn what their intention is and provide feedback that we think will help them reach their goals.

          Yeah, you kind of have to jump in just willing to be in the minority and ridiculed while finding like minded individuals, or those whose opinions/insights provide the type of value that’s useful. Used to be quite a few of those when I first found SS.