“What do you do when the feedback you get doesn’t agree?”
Being a writer means getting all kinds of feedback. “It’s great, don’t change a thing!” “Lose the opening and start on page 47.” “Have you considered macrame as an artistic outlet instead?”
Here’s the thing. I don’t object to feedback. I like it. I have performed or put my work into the public since I was 18. Reviews are old news, both raves and pans. I’ve learned not to take the highs or lows too seriously, and look for value in the critique. There’s always something to learn.
Which brings me to the current dilemma: What do you do when the feedback you get contradicts the other opinions? I mean in precisely equal measure. It’s frustrating.
For context, I have been getting feedback on the “Johnny Lycan: Werewolf Detective,” screenplay. (The schmantzy jargon for it is “coverage,” in case you want to feel like an insider.) Some of this coverage I’ve paid for, getting opinions from neutral sources who don’t know me or give a rip about hurting my feelings. Some are from other screenwriters.
When feedback, even harsh feedback, is consistent writers must pay attention to it. Maybe the premise isn’t as clear as you think it is. If people constantly miss the joke, there’s a high probability that it’s just not funny. Take that knowledge and move on. That’s what feedback’s for, and only idiots write it off as not worth considering. Doesn’t mean you agree, but you have to at least give it some thought and consider your options.
As I say, some of the feedback I expected. There’s a big old lull at the beginning of Act 2. I need more action during the dialog scenes. (In “Save the Cat,” terms, I need more “Pope in the Pool.” Trust me, if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, hang in there.) I need to change a couple of settings or it will be too expensive to produce. I actually suspected all that, so the feedback is valuable. I can work with that.
But there are a couple of huge sticking points where the people doing the evaluation fundamentally disagree. They like something the other hates or the other way around. Here are two examples:
That noir-y first-person narration. As you know, the Johnny Lycan books are written in first person. Books aren’t films, so I agonized over whether to go for that old detective noir feeling to get inside Johnny’s head. The first draft was full of Johnny’s narration- very much like Zombieland meets The Big Sleep. One writer thought it was brilliant and the highlight of the script. Another reader thought it was cheap and if I did away with it, the story would flow better. Ummm, thanks?
How do you solve a problem like Meaghan? The other big source of disagreement is about poor Meaghan. Seems her father doesn’t like her much and neither do half the readers. Exactly half the readers felt her B story gives Johnny’s character depth and adds humanity to the story. The other half finds her boring and a distraction to the main story. Here’s the thing. If Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk gets made as a one-off, we can probably lose Meaghan as a character. Kill your darlings, right?
But she’s important to the rest of the series. I can’t imagine doing either The Vegas Berserker or Last Witchfinder without her. Of course, what are the odds someone’s going to make all three films? Slim to none. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Taking one set of feedback means creating a very different-feeling movie than the other, even if 80% of the script is identical. I don’t expect any of you reading this to have the answers, but thought you might enjoy a little look into the part of writing you seldom see.
My other screenplay, “Ghost Girl” is getting much more consistent (and positive) feedback that made the next draft that much better. I have high hopes for it. But Johnny is close to my heart, and I want to do right by him.
If you’ve read the Werewolf PI series, know that Book 3 is out in May. (Cover reveal pending.) If you haven’t, this is a dandy time to start with Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk, and Book 2, Johnny Lycan and the Vegas Berserker. Johnny Lycan and the Last Witchfinder is out May 2 from Black Rose Writing.
Don’t let the weasels get you down.