Ever hear the phrase, “Two heads are better than one?”
This past weekend, I was lucky to be a mentor at the Meryl Streep/Oprah Winfrey IRIS New York Women in Film and Television Writing Lab for Women. Yeah, I know, it’s a mouthful.
12 writers were selected, we all met in New York, and took a train out to a lovely retreat center in Connecticut. Each writer was assigned mentors who read their scripts and gave feedback. Each writer also read several scripts and gave feedback to her fellow writers in peer to peer sessions.
The word writer’s LAB is key here, because the writers were like scientists, gathering data on their screenplays. What worked, and what didn’t. All geared toward them taking this feedback home and using it to strengthen their scripts.
There were notes on story structure, concept, character and theme. Some of the writers recorded their sessions and now are faced with hours of notes. All on a single script, that maybe they hoped was finished.
I’m sure you can all relate to getting feedback on your pages and feeling overwhelmed. But this moment, where it all feels just “too much,” where you’re not sure which notes to ignore, and which to listen to, is an extremely important part of the writing process. One you’ll experience with producers, studio executives, and editors.
The function of a Brain Trust is to bring together people who you know understand good storytelling, and to put them to work to strengthen your creative work.
But once you have all the feedback, how do you process and sift through it to come up with a game plan for your rewrite?
Here’s one way to harness the power of a Brain Trust…
After getting a slew of notes, take a couple of days off. Let the notes settle, and give your brain a rest. Cry a little…
Go through the notes and write down the ones that were consistent. If more than one person mentioned the same problem, take note. There’s an issue.
Write down the notes that resonated with you immediately and that you know will make your story better.
For now, these are the notes you will tackle.
Brainstorm about how to implement these notes and solve the problems you know are there. If someone said they didn’t understand a character’s motivation, what was your intention for this character? How can you reveal this motivation more clearly through action in the story? If someone said they didn’t understand your theme, what IS your theme? Do you know? Again, nail it down, then figure out a way to reveal it through action. If one of your readers pointed out a logic problem, how can you fix it?
Make a new outline that shows any structural/scene/character changes you are making. This will usually be a combo of new scenes and ones that already exist in your current draft. Know that even small changes will ripple through the original scenes. Lay in all the new character set ups and pay offs. Can you track the theme through action? Does your main character’s arc make more sense? Make note of dialogue or action trims. Solve those logic issues through reworking the related story beats.
Analyze the new outline. Does it address all the problems that you wrote on your list?
Start rewriting. Make the notes your OWN in the rewrite. You’ve identified the problems. Now solve them in your way. If someone gave you a good idea and it feels true to your story and style, use it. If the feedback solution doesn’t work for you, find another way to address it.
One caveat. Sometimes it’s not the note that you get, but the thing UNDERNEATH the note you need to listen to. For example, did your feedback person say that a certain scene didn’t work or didn’t move the story forward and you should throw it out? Take a look at that scene. Why did you put it in? What was your intention? Is there a way to make this scene move the story forward? If the answer is no, is there a way to take the thing that’s important and move it to another scene that DOES move the story forward?
Take Action! Pull together your own Brain Trust– a group of trusted, talented writer friends who understand what you’re trying to do and can give you useful feedback. Once you’ve gathered all the data on your book or script, take a couple of days off to let the notes settle. Make a list of the feedback that was consistent and write down the notes that resonated with you immediately. Make a new outline, implementing these changes. Have you solved all the problems you wrote on your list?
Start your rewrite!
Sometimes it’s useful to think of yourself as a scientist. And part of being a scientist, is gathering data on your creative piece.
The power of a Brain Trust is huge.
Gather your peeps to get some feedback!
Sign up here for my free weekly writing tips and inspiration!