“I hate to read.”

This is perhaps a new wrinkle on a familiar theme. But it may make you look at your work a tad differently.

A former student of mine does development for a company in Los Angeles. A small company, with four employees, but they make movies and television. They get things done. She reads scripts, sits down with writers and gives notes. She prepares pitches, breaks down stories… all the things a creative exec does. It’s all about story and she’s great at it. They are sooo lucky to have her.

I was talking to her about her workload and scripts that come in, etc. Asked her if she wasn’t amazed by the number of bad screenplays that have agency reputation. Always a conundrum for a writer… if it’s so bloody difficult to get an agent, why are so many agents sending out horrible screenplays? I asked her about reading. She leaned forward, and with a degree of viciousness I had never seen in her, said…

“I HATE to read.”

It’s the last thing she wants to do, because so many of the scripts are terrible. She’d be happy if she never read another script, ever.

I thought about you, dear reader, and the work you are doing. Writing a screenplay, planning to send it out there to sell. I know you’ve imagined the reader, on a lounge chair by the pool, flipping through the pages of your script. Making the occasional note. Ooohing and aahing at the good stuff. And at the end, marking “Consider.”

That is one image. If you write toward that benign image, I don’t think you’ll get as far as if you write toward the image of a reader who HATES to read.

Imagine you are giving your script to someone, a reader, an agent, a producer, who, whey they turn to the title page, is already angry. They turn to page 1, pissed off. As they read your first slug line and first paragraph of action description, they are fuming because they would rather be doing anything than reading your damned screenplay.

How does that make you feel?

Intimidated?
Nervous? Fearful?
Thinking you’d better go back and rewrite that first paragraph?

Imagine someone sitting down to read who has steam coming from their collar… already upset with you… and your job is to make them happy. Wouldn’t you do EVERYTHING you could to calm them down? No extra lines of dialogue. No extra words in the slug lines. No shilly shallying around with the first act… etc., etc. All those things that are so difficult to do, and when they aren’t done well, make the reader loathe you.

Because they hate to read but have to read your script, do five more drafts so that it is perfect.
Make them smile at your intense professionalism.
Make your prose interesting.
Make your story work.

Do the job.
Do not assume your grandmother is sitting down to read your script, all warm and loving.
Assume it’s Tina Turner from TOMMY. Or Maleficent. Or that horrid teacher you had in fifth grade. Or your ex-wife’s mother, who never, ever liked you and now says, “I told you so,” with every breath.

Someone who scares you and will perhaps prod you into doing one more draft. Or five.

Good luck!

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Filed under Criticism, Good Writing, Screenwriting

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