Giving feedback: To hurt or to lie?

The Birds by Phillie Casablanca

One of my friends called me a few days back. He was drunk. He was very excited about this idea which he was planning to develop into this 30 minute abstract drama. It is always very tough when some one asks your opinion about something which they are really excited about. And it becomes even more tough because they call you because they expect you to be honest with them. So I told him the truth after coating some sugar on it. But the sugar coating wasn’t thick enough. Or so he felt. It ended up in a (one sided) polemic about why screenwriting is about selling out compared to writing for theater.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have any specific commitment or love for truth. If I am given a choice between hurting someone and telling a lie, I would always choose the second one without batting an eye. But sometimes you make a mistake about how much pain you can cause. You misjudge about the level of rejection some one can take. And often it is very unpleasant to think about the amount of effort someone is going to put into a ‘nothing’ because you also said ‘yes.’

It made me think about subjectivity and objectivity in relation to art. It is really tough at times. Especially with screenwriting, often you have to listen to and incorporate advice from different stakeholders at different points of film making. It is like walking through a mine field. All the opinions may not be dangerous. But you don’t know which one is going to explode below you.  Most of the script notes which are very radical from your own point of view will appear to be nonsensical at first glance to a writer. At the same time, after a certain period of time, you may realise that it was correct.

So how you decide to accept or reject a criticism or opinion? A popular idiom is that often the problem pointed out is genuine, but the solution may not be right. It is up to you to analyse why the reader felt that there is such a problem. Well, that advice do make certain kind of sense. Another thing is that, never give your work out for feedback before you are at least partially emotionally disconnected from it. Wait for at least 2-3 months before giving out your finished script. It does help to take the feedback in a much more balanced way. Other wise it is much more likely that you will turn a blind eye towards that beautiful but inappropriate monologue or well crafted but unwanted scene.

Photo by Phillie Casablanca


8 thoughts on “Giving feedback: To hurt or to lie?

  1. That’s smart advice about waiting to give out your work. I think I hand mine over to quickly (I don’t do screenplays so this is just regular writing) and don’t have time to disconnect from it. I tend to get emotional when I receive criticism then.

    1. Yeah, I realise that when I say delay giving your work to some one else for feedback, it is easier said than done. During that high of finishing something, we all are thirsting for validation.

  2. Getting reviewed by another writer, is always a tough thing, because it’s not always about the effect that you are having on a reader, it’s also about whether it fits into his/her school of thought about storytelling. If one has complete trust in their method, and the depth of it seems to be the best they can attain, then another human’s opinion should not matter. Some people are less ambitious with their writing, by nature, and don’t like it if you tell them that what they are doing does not meet your level of ‘decently written’.

    Still, as writers we can always connect to the effort someone has put in, so we do not usually want to break their hearts. (Even more so, if they are friends.) And achieving the kind of criticism that’d lead them to be angry at themselves and not the critic, is again as tough as writing itself.

    In the end, why bother about someone else’s journey too much, if your own journey could do with a lot more effort.

    1. Hi Sameer,
      Agree that feedback should always be taken with a pinch of salt as individual tastes do matter. But still, if you are giving your material to a reliable person who shares your tastes, it does help. Sometimes we can be so blind towards pitfalls of our own material.
      And giving feedback to others can help one’s own writing journey because it is about giving honest mutual feedback. Every writer needs to have some people to get objective appraisal.

  3. Nice post. Receiving and giving feedback are both similar to negotiating a minefield! 🙂 I have been in both situations and as a writer, when you receive feedback, it helps to take out the “emotion” from the process. View it as dispassionately as possible (which is very tough!) and analyse the input. Negative criticism can be valuable in terms of gaining insight into what’s not working with your script. But very often detaching yourself emotionally from your work may not be possible. And whenever I give feedback to others, I try to keep that in mind.

    1. It is true that whatever be the duration of break from your work, you cannot be emotionally disconnected from it completely. One can only hope that with time, one is a little more straight headed in viewing it with a fresh perspective.

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