Here's the plan:
- Go out one evening after work and get together with a group of people you hardly know.
- Sit around a long table and allow the group to read aloud an early draft of your screenplay.
- Listen as each person, one-by-one, dissects the script, points out its shortcomings and offers his/her opinions on what to do differently.
Sound fun? On the contrary, it's quite a horrifying proposition. It's difficult to put yourself in such a vulnerable position, opening yourself up like that for an onslaught of criticism and opinion. But this is how I spent my Wednesday evening, attending the Memphis Write Club - a group that meets monthly to conduct table reads and discuss scripts. This month I was their featured writer and here are the valuable insights I gained by participating:
- Listening to your script out loud is very different from reading it by yourself. Table reads give you the opportunity to get a sense of the pacing and flow of the script. It exposes potential problems with your dialogue; the word choices; the cadence. Make time for a table read while still in the early draft stages, but don't read along with the participants. Simply sit back and listen. You will hear what works and what doesn't.
- You need objectivity. It's easy to hand your script over to your best friend or your mom and ask them to provide feedback. A majority of the time that feedback will be super positive. It's another thing to hand your script out to a group of strangers and ask them for their honest opinions. But you need a fresh perspective.
- Take notes and don't talk. As people give their opinions of your script, don't defend the choices you made. Just listen. Your script has spoken for you. Now it's time to let others speak and offer their suggestions.
- Others at the table are trying to help improve your script, not destroy your sense of self-worth to satisfy their own sadistic impulses. Not every idea will be golden, and you don't have to incorporate every idea into your next draft. Weigh the options. Consider which ideas will work best for the type of story you are trying to tell. Even though you might not use a particular idea, it could jump start your own creativity and lead you down a new path that will really punch up the script.
- And probably most importantly, never stop learning. Be willing to open yourself up to criticism. Continue to practice your craft and strive for continual growth.
Good luck in your own creative endeavors.