Writing Tips to Trick out your Script – Tip #8: HOW TO ASK PEOPLE TO READ YOUR SCRIPT
“Will you read my screenplay?” I was asked the dreaded question twice recently. By very good friends. These guys have never asked me to read anything. So, I said “yes.”
I imagined agonizing over 110 pages of muddy material with too much dialogue, thin descriptions, badly developed characters and even resented being asked. How can my friends – guys I have known for years, decades – do this to me? Money, blood or even a kidney I would consider. But reading an amateur screenplay?
Of course, I’m frequently on the other end. I’m always asking friends to read my screenplays. Some of them show great enthusiasm and get back to me quickly, while others act like they’ll read it and I never hear about it again, while others simply take a lot longer than I’d like. I’m thus very cautious when I embark on the journey of asking someone to read my scripts.
Because people HATE reading scripts. Hate it. Because there are more screenwriters in the world, and thus there are more horrible screenwriters in the world. If you ask someone to read your screenplay, they will already think it sucks. And people already HATE to read.
It’s like asking someone to eat sand or watch their pet getting tortured.
Yet, it is a necessary evil. You need to have a group of people you trust to read your drafts and tell you what they HONESTLY think. And then, its up to you to select the parts of their opinion you can use to amplify your screenplay. Without this, its next to impossible to write a good screenplay. You MUST hear and HANDLE THE TRUTH.
I have thus created –
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS of ASKING PEOPLE TO READ YOUR SCREENPLAY:
1.Thou Shalt Not tell Thy Reader how Amazing Thy script is. It’s okay to say you’re excited about your accomplishment and how hard you worked. But don’t tell your reader “this is an incredible story and you will love every page.” People wince when you tell them THEIR opinion (especially before they’ve had a chance to form one). You are offending them by assuming what they think. That’s not an emotion you want to create when you’re already asking them to do something they don’t want to do. Just say, “I worked very hard on this script and I could really use your honest opinion.”
2. Thou Shalt Allow Thy Reader a Way Out. It’s hard to find people to read your shit. It really is. The group I have has been cultivated over years. If one of them went blind, I would be lost. That’s why I try to make it as easy on them as possible. I want them to read my scripts until they’re 90. That’s why, sometimes, in my early drafts, I tell them if they don’t like the first 15 pages, to put it down. Why? Because in Hollywood, they won’t even get past the first 15. If those pages suck, you’re dead in the water. Give your readers an out. Torture them as little as possible. And ask why those first 15 sucked. And LISTEN very attentively.
3. Thou Shalt Pitch Thy Story to Thy Reader. While its important not to tell your reader their opinion before they’ve formed it, it can be crucial to tell them what they’re about to read like its an exciting movie you just watched. By doing this, you do two things
- a) test how much YOU know your own story and
- b) gauge how interested they are in reading your script.
If this Reader appears in agony already, you may want to reconsider having them read your script or get on your hands and knees and express what a huge favor it will be to read a story they’re obviously not interested in.
4. Thou Shalt Offer Thy Reader An Offering. People love presents. Even more than they hate reading screenplays. If your reader loves wine, bring them a bottle of wine. If your reader loves chocolate, buy them a bar of chocolate. You feel me? Give this to them, before you ask them to read your screenplay.
In Chinese, the definition of “present” is “giving before taking.” Why? Because the concept of a “present” has worked for centuries. Your screenplay will be read much more quickly this way. But please don’t give them a present when its time for their opinion. You want the truth. Their truth, anyway.
5. Thou Shalt Not Waste All of Thy Readers in One Draft. You want your reader’s opinions to be fresh. That means, if you have 6 readers, pick 2 to read your first draft, 2 to read your second, and so on. Don’t waste all 6 Readers with your first draft. Ration. Pick and choose based on their personalities.
6. Thou Shalt Be Ready to Hear Thy Script Sucks. If you’re not ready to hear the worse, if you’re not ready to be humiliated, seriously, pick another line of work. This industry is vicious. Only the thickest skin survives (hence, all the plastic surgery). Be ready to hear that you script sucks and accept it as that person’s honest opinion. It doesn’t mean your script sucks. But this reader may have valid points, if you choose to listen to them.
7. Thou Shalt Not Ask Thy Readers to Read Thy Screenplay Again. Avoid making people read the SAME script more than once. The fresh opinion has spoiled. People already HATE reading. Don’t make them do it twice. Or risk receiving a corrupted opinion. You want fresh perspective of your screenplay. You don’t want a GMO version.
8. Thou Shalt Listen to Thy Reader and Ask Questions. Whether your script is great or it sucks, it is very important that you LISTEN to your READER. That means, you shut your mouth and HEAR what they say. You’ve been locked in your script for months and you no longer can judge it correctly. This person’s point of view is gold because it is NOT CORRUPTED. You are CORRUPTED. You’ve read this thing a million times. You need a virgin opinion. Ask questions, and then shut up again and HEAR their opinion.
You’re not here to tell them why you didn’t develop a character because you work 5 jobs or why named your protagonist “Chester.” You’re here to ask if that chase scene was boring or if the joke about The Statue of Liberty is funny. This is a great chance especially for material you’ve been on the fence about. Ask and you shall receive. The truth.
9. Thou Shalt Take Thy Reader’s Opinions With a Grain of Salt. While the THIRD PERSON perspective is extremely valuable – and I can’t stress this enough – it just as important to not give this Reader too much power. Meaning, remember that you’re the writer. Remember that you have a vision. This person’s opinion is here to serve that vision. Study their faces when they talk about your script. Study their eyes. Watch them glow or look repelled based on something they read. And then, pick and choose the portions of their opinion that best serve your story. I’m not saying, discard the Readers who hate your script and embrace the Readers that love your script, mind you.
I’m saying, pick apart the opinions and “sense” what to follow. Something a Reader will say will trigger an idea, an epiphany, something you hadn’t thought of. This happens to me with every script. Look out for those lightning bolt moments. They’re better than gold. And your Reader will feel great that they helped you with such a crucial element.
10. Thou Shalt Beware of Compliments. Have you seen “Whiplash”? The worse two words in the English language… “good job.” There’s only one person you want to hear that from. The person writing you the check when you sell your screenplay. You wouldn’t even waste your time writing this script if you didn’t think it was a great idea. So, it’s a great idea. End of story. You don’t need to hear that again. You need to be attentive to what’s not working and fix it. For the love of God, do not ask your readers, “so the script was really good, right?” You will never get to the promise land with that question.
Harnessing a Reader’s opinion is a skill in itself. Most professionals, such as Woody Allen, have a group of people they trust to pick apart their screenplays. Remember that you want to hear any malfunction about your script from the people who do not write the check, so that you can blow away the person that WRITES THE CHECK.
Btw, the two friends who showed me their scripts actually wrote good scripts. They need work, but it was a tremendous relief that they were good. Because I would have told them the script sucked if I had to. Because I want the same thing.
The truth. You must handle the truth, dear screenwriters.
We’ve assembled all 13 of our screenwriting tips in an EPIC page so you can improve your screenwriting chops and enjoy the craft.
Written by: Norith Soth