Giving notes may seem like something that hardly needs to be discussed. “I know how to give notes,” you’re saying. “I can look at a script and immediately know just what the writer needs to do and then it will be perfect!” Well, bully for you. But the writer doesn’t need to take your notes, no matter how brilliant. So if you sincerely want to help someone else, you have to learn to give notes in a way that makes them easy to take. There are a few simple rules to keep in mind.
Not all notes should be bad. It’s easy to focus on the part that needs help and ignore the stuff that’s good, but that’s a very effective way to put the writer on the defensive. Temper your criticism by pointing out what you liked, especially if it’s something they’re in danger of changing based on what you didn’t like. Ideally, this would be a 50-50 mix of what was great and what would need work (coming out of your mouth. Not necessarily in the script). But be sincere. Making things up or stretching how brilliant that pun really was does everyone a disservice.
This is an easy habit to get out of, but you’ll know immediately if your friends have forgotten this rule. Remind yourself: even if this is a writing group that has been together for ten years, even if this is a friend to whom you would give a kidney, who you would have been a bridesmaid for if she didn’t have so many sisters, whose child is currently puking on your grandmother’s handmade quilt, she poured her heart and soul into this script and she needs a little ego boost. You can’t assume that she knows you think she’s great. Taking notes is hard, and she needs a little help.
Don’t fall in love with your notes. This is a tricky one. You can see in your head exactly what the writer needs to do to make the story so great. Seriously, this will solve all of the story problems, amplify the character development, and be visually awesome to boot. But that doesn’t mean that the writer can see it. And the problem isn’t necessarily that you’re explaining it wrong. The writer might just have a different vision of what the story should be, and your note is taking the story in the wrong direction. So give your note, and then move on. Don’t harp on it. Don’t give all of your other notes based on this one. Don’t try to rally everyone else to your cause. Know that you’ve done the best you can and move on.
Know when to focus on typos. We all make typos. Even the best proofreaders among us can have a little bit of a blind eye to our own work. But if all the notes you’re giving are typos, it better be because every other part of the script is perfect. Until that point, make a note of the typos on the pages and hand them to the writer saying, “I marked some little things.” Don’t waste everyone’s time with it. We should all know the difference between “your” and “you’re,” so if you bring it up in front of everyone, all you’re doing is embarassing the writer.
Tangents are okay, but read the room. When it’s getting late and it’s a long script to get through, that might not be the best time for a story about how the parade last weekend just Would. Not. End. Likewise, when you’ve been arguing for an hour about the merits of a character choosing a life of crime, it might be time for a little diversion. But know when it’s time for the diversion to be over. If the writer is giving you a look that clearly says, “can we please just get through act 4?” it might be time to turn the conversation back to work.