Analyzing Critiques: Dealing with Contradictory Critiques

When Contradictory Critiques Aren’t Really Contradictory

by Ann Marie Williams

Critiques can be confusing. One person loved your script, while another person hated the very same script. What one person said was a totally pointless scene, another said was their favorite moment. What one reader felt was perfect pacing, another felt was all wrong. 

Contradictory critiques can sometimes be just that: contradictory. 

However, sometimes, critiques aren’t always as contradictory as they first appear.

For example:

Critique One: “I love Susan!  Susan is by far the most well-rounded character.”

Critique Two: “Susan adds nothing to the story and I suggest you remove her character completely.”

At first, these comments seem totally opposite.  However, upon closer analysis, we find that these two comments are actually addressing different aspects of the script.

The first critique addresses Susan as a character. The first critic found Susan to be a well-rounded character and absolutely loved her — as a character.   

The second critique, however, addresses Susan’s contribution to the progression of the story.  It is very possible that the second critic actually loved the character of Susan, but recognized that Susan doesn’t actually do anything to help advance the plot.

Given this analysis, when it comes to rewriting the script, the writer might need to find a legitimate way to give Susan more to do within the plot without undermining her character (or taking away too much from another character). 

Here’s another example:

Critique One:  “I was so impressed with the plot.  You’ve got a winner there!

Critique Two:  “This script was unnecessarily confusing and way too hard to follow.”

In this case, it could very well be that both critics are addressing the story’s plot (one critic found the plot confusing, the other didn’t).

However…

The first critic has actually only addressed the plot of the story.  They found the plot very impressive.

The second critic doesn’t actually say the plot is terrible, just that the script was confusing and hard to follow. In other words, it’s possible that the plot itself is confusing, but it’s also possible the issue is (not with the plot) but with the conveyance of the plot. In other words, the story’s structure or formatting probably needs work, not the actual plot.

So, why the “differing” critiques?

Maybe the first critic was able to see through the weak-structure to the plot within, whereas the second critic wasn’t able to get past the messy structure and therefore couldn’t identify the genius of the plot.

In summary, sometimes a comment isn’t what it appears to be at first glance and it can take some analysis (either of the individual comment or the rest of the critique) to get to the heart of the critic’s meaning. However, analyzing critiques like this is not intended as an excuse to reinterpret comments to match what you want the comments to be. Rather, it’s an exercise in learning how to sift through the multitude of opinions about your writing to try to find the useful tidbits therein.

Finally, contradictory critiques are one of the reasons I suggest — when possible — that writers seek out more than one critique. Because often the comments from one individual are not informative enough to base your rewrites on.


Want even more tips for dealing with critiques? Check out Ann Marie Williams’ book Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script

Screenplay Competitions book front and back cover
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