questionmarkWhat are your thoughts on choosing readers for first drafts? I’ve noticed that, for example, giving a Disney movie to a Fincher fan can turn a favor into a chore and leave the writer lacking in constructive feedback. Better to give it to someone who knows and enjoys the genre and is aware of that marketplace, past and present. You’re asking them to work for free, after all.

I’ve also made the mistake of allowing someone unfamiliar with screenwriting to read a script because they asked me to. You end up explaining everything to death and they still don’t get it which can feed your rampant first-draft-phase insecurity. Was there a strategy you followed back in the day to get the best feedback or did it just happen organically?

I looked but didn’t see anything on the site to help with this. May be helpful to myself and others.

– Matt

The screenplay format is so unlike traditional fiction that it’s hard for newcomers to offer much useful feedback. They often can’t distinguish between the strange experience of reading a movie on paper and the story they just read. You may feel a social obligation to let non-screenwriting friends read your work, but don’t plan your rewrite based on their reactions.

With friends and colleagues who are familiar with screenplays — by which I mean they’ve read at least a dozen, and can talk about them comfortably — you may still need to pick carefully. Certain people and certain genres just don’t mix.

A thoughtful reader, though, can often offer constructive feedback even when it’s not her type of movie.

Back when I was in the Stark Program, we all read each other’s scripts. Al Gough and Miles Millar made their first sale with a script about a cop and an orangutan — a very high-concept comedy. That’s not in my wheelhouse, but I went through two or three drafts with them, offering very specific notes about trims and clarifications. They did the same for me on my overwritten romantic tragedy. Regardless of the genre, a good reader can help a writer see problems and find solutions. More than anything, you want a second smart brain to bounce ideas off of. That’s why you ask people to read your work-in-progress.

And for the praise. You want people to tell you you’re great.

Another thing to keep in mind: Don’t burn out your readers. Unless they actively ask to read the next draft, give them a break. You may even want to keep one or two reader friends “fresh” for the inevitable rewrite.