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!


  1. Jo
    9th July 2008

    hooray! you get the critique thing! I feel strongly about how crits are written and received. To my mind, there is no need for any personal comments but every need to be completely honest. it is about the writing, not the person who wrote it.

    I, too, wrote a post about critiquing on my blog today.

    Glad to have found yours. J

  2. kathrynoh
    9th July 2008

    I love getting harsh feedback. I shows that someone’s put time and effort into critiquing your work. I reckon nothing is worse than a dismissive “that’s nice”.

  3. Nik's Blog
    9th July 2008

    By formatting do you mean the mechanincs of how it’s set out on the page? If that is the case, and I know I’m probably telling you how to suck eggs, but a programme like Final Draft makes all that lark a serious doddle.

    Best of luck with the revisions.

    And of course harsh crits are a good thing. Anything that helps is, isn’t it?


  4. pollyB
    15th July 2008

    Hi Kay and thanks for the tough love crit on Misthackle. I came back for more last Saturday at the writing group I crashed and am working on your comments. Not THAT painfull I know I have to learn the craft and about the dyslexia.


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