by Ann Marie Williams
In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of being honest with yourself about your writing. But even if you’re able to be objective about your own writing, the one thing you can never do is experience your story for the first time.
Sure, there’s the first time you read through your first draft, or your final draft, but even then, you already know the story. You know how your story ends. You know this before you read the first line on the first page. You can’t be surprised by a plot twist. You can’t be shocked by the inciting incident. And you can’t read your story without already knowing how all the pieces come together because…
You know the story. All of it. Even what isn’t on the page.
You know your characters’ backstories, their unspoken motivations, what they are thinking and feeling at any given moment. You already hear their dialogue in your head, which words are emphasized, and which hesitations mean something more than just a pause to take a breath. You know what happened before the story started, what happens after it ends, and every plot twist in between. You know it all… And you can’t un-know it.
Now, you can give yourself some space from your script (a few weeks, a few months, years if need be), and when you finally reread your script, you might have a better understanding of what it’s like to read the story for the first time. If you let enough time pass, you might even forget certain aspects of the story (a line of dialogue, a secondary plot point, a vivid image, a clever transition), and this can shed new light on what reads well and what doesn’t. Maybe you find yourself tripping over some of the dialogue, or find certain descriptions confusing, or realize a couple characters are too similar.
But taking time off from a script is not the same as jumping in without knowing a single thing about the story other than the title.
For this reason alone, I find it crucial to get critiques of my writing.
When someone reads your story for the first time, their critique can help you begin to learn what backstories came through, which ones didn’t, what was too confusing, and what was explained too much. You can start to see how others perceive your characters and story as they are currently written.
Understandably, when you’ve put months or years into your beloved script it can be difficult to receive a critique from someone who has read your script only once, and then finds copious flaws and offers a myriad of suggestions on how to make your script better. It hardly seems like they could, or should, be able to offer any valuable insights when you’ve spent months or years with this story, and they’ve only spent a few hours.
You can never know what it’s like to read your script for the first time.
So, instead of seeing your critic’s lack of familiarity with your script as a negative, look at it as a valid and valuable asset.
Your script can only make one first impression, not just with your critic or screenplay competition judges, but with agents, managers, producers, directors, actors, and eventually your viewing audience.
So while it might be frustrating to take suggestions from someone after they’ve only read your script once, knowing how someone perceives your script after one read can be crucial.
This post has been reprinted (with slight modifications to fit the blog format) from Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script, by Ann Marie Williams, published by Bluestocking Press, © 2019.
Screenplay Competitions has received endorsements from Dave Trottier (author, The Screenwriter’s Bible, www.keepwriting.com), Professor Richard Walter (former Screenwriting Area Head, Associate and Interim Dean UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television), Matt Dy (former Director of Script Competitions at Austin Film Festival), Professor Harry M. Cheney (Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts), script editor Lucy V. Hay (www.bang2write.com) and Emmy-wining writer Ken Levine (Hollywood and Levine).