There are script notes and there are script notes in the screenwriting world. The same goes for the people that write them. Few appreciate the difficulty of deep story analysis.
Screenplays contain elements of mythology, sociology and anthropology. They help define what makes us human.
What kind of script reader are you?
When a story is written, the screenwriter believes they have something to express about humanity. A good story analyst should bear these minds and critique a script in terms of these structures. Here are some types of script analysts to avoid:
These analysts dissect the quality of a story based on its ability to precisely mimic real life. Stories are an elevated form of real life, with the mundane aspects removed. So comments like “as if they could away with that” do not make a script bad. A good script analyst will acknowledge the events may be far-fetched, there may be too many co-incidences, or the logic may be skewed (e.g a character with a sprained ankle running away from a crime scene) are more helpful comments. Although it’s impossible to avoid injecting personal preferences into a critique, more objective comments will give the writer something to think about. Blunt, absolute and definitive statements like “as if they could get away with that” will likely cause the writer to ignore the note.
A good story analyst will not cloud their critique with personal value moral judgements. Comments like “all men cheat on their wives eventually” so a story which doesn’t fulfil this belief is not a helpful comment. Your job as a script analyst is to see if the writer has created a balanced story which explores the pros and cons of the theme.
It’s also important to avoid script analysts who regurgitate swathes of text from screenwriting books. This demonstrates they know how to cut and paste rather than have any useful insight into your story.
These script analysts rewrite your story according to their tastes. They often insist they’ve made an improvement when all they’ve done is rewritten the story. It’s your story. Keep it. Own it.
These are the insipid script analysts who make soporific, bland and generalized platitudes on your story. Comments such as “I loved that guy. He was funny” are a waste of time. They don’t really know what they thought of the story and certainly don’t offer suggestions on how to improve the next screenplay.
5) THE GESTAPO
These are structure Nazis who toss out your screenplay if your inciting incident didn’t occur on page 10 or the first act was longer than 30 pages. While page counts act as a guide on to where your story beats should fit into a timeline, they are not law.
These are the analysts who write two pages of notes on your log line and, despite several reads, you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They probably don’t either.
These are the analysts who skim through a script and think they’ve understood it in a single pass. They often make notes such as suggesting additions that are already in the script. Or they’ll comment on a perceived or suggested plot line that doesn’t exist.
These are the script analysts that missed the screenwriter’s point. They didn’t get the sarcasm, metaphor or undertow of the story and took it at face value.
These are the analysts that start writing their notes before they’ve read the complete script. They often read the first few pages, then skim through the middle and read read a few pages at the end. Their notes often don’t make sense and display similarities to ramblers. However, screenwriters should take note that their writing perhaps wasn’t strong enough to sustain the reader’s interest.
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