Monday, January 19, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 55 - Taking Criticism

A week ago, I was gung-ho about my outline, sure that there weren't any major oversights or redundancies. Our last meeting (Wednesday) was a mild confirmation of that.

As a writer, it can be really tough to listen to someone criticize your work, especially when you think it works. It's easy to become defensive about the work and dismissive of the comments you get on it. As a result, the genius idea you had might wind up not being so genius, or it takes you two or three drafts to see the light of what your peers were telling you all along. I think we've all been there before, and once we come around, see why what others were saying was right, if not at least on the path to being correct.

I wouldn't exactly say that I had the above experience with the League on Wednesday. In fact, overall, the notes were pretty reassuring and required me to make few changes to my outline. There were, however, some very good ideas thrown my way, ideas that not only simplify some things and make the audience more comfortable with the overall plot, but make the protagonist much more active throughout act two. Basically, for a frame of reference, my protagonist - a general in the Roman army - has an idea for a battle, but requires someone else to help put everything in place. As a result, my guy just twiddles his thumbs for a good chunk of the latter half of Act Two, waiting for the pieces to fall into place. Yeah, he does other things, too, but very little of it drives the impending action forward. Dull.

My pals in the League offered a very simple suggestion - maybe the protagonist should be responsible for lining everything up - which does not disturb the structure of my outline. What their idea does do, though, is it gives him a goal for that time span and eliminates the redundant "time to check on the progress of the battle plan" scenes that I had scattered throughout that part of the outline. So, I come away with not only a more active protagonist, a guy who is directly responsible for bringing about the events that will lead to Act Three, but also a second act that keeps moving - and moving toward something. Combine that with a way to build up the importance of one of the side characters, tie it into the "B Story" and play down his gratuitous mysteriousness, and I walked away from the meeting with a lot of really good stuff to think about. I've since made those changes to my outline.

Sometimes it takes a few days to see the strength in someone's suggestion. Sometimes longer. sometimes it's a few drafts down the road that we realize that change should have been made all along. Or, an experience that I've not had the pleasure of yet, sometimes that realization comes out after a movie's been made. Maybe if you're a big shot director, you can go back and get the studio to release a director's cut DVD later that fixes everything. But until we get to that point, it's important to listen to feedback. Hell, if I couldn't do that with the League, how would I ever expect to take more drastic notes from a producer?

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