Writing is a talent. Talent means you are naturally, weirdly good at something that other people can not do. You know you have writing talent if your writing elicits an emotional response from people. You know you have talent if you know what you write is good. You KNOW it.
– The scenes are over-written (ie. John stands nervously looking at his face in the bathroom mirror over the sink near the shower two feet from the window.”).
– There doesn’t seem to be any theme or subtext underlying this piece. The writer doesn’t seem to have any burning thing she wants to say. She has done a job, but never taken ownership.
– There is no charm here. No fun. No magic. Nothing that feels fresh or creative.
– There is nothing to learn here. The writer has nothing to teach or share.
Aristotle says that human beings are driven to story by two powerful instincts: for imitation and for beauty. It’s the imitation thing we are interested in here. The kind of imitation that we are driven to stare at in stories is what Aristotle calls, “Men in action.” Movement. Choices. Change. And real change that can’t just be reversed or taken back. We say “Show don’t tell,” when we are working with writers but, it’s amazing how so few people can apply this when it comes to their own work. So, I’m not going to just tell you, show don’t tell. Here’s me showing you the notes you get when a story is all talky no chantey.
– Because so much of this comes down to conversations, most of the story feels unmotivated. It lacks the compelling quality that comes from “seeing is believing.”
– No one is building anything in this script. No one is climbing a mountain or slaying a dragon or doing anything enviable or, frankly, anything filmic.
– Apparently, the writer wants us to believe that these characters resolved their huge problems offscreen and without losing any limbs or jobs or jobs or even just a smashed brandy glass.
When I talk about genre with my students, it always turns into a discussion of their First Amendment freedoms. Many wannabe writers feel constrained by the idea of genre as if it is something outside being imposed on them. But genre isn’t something that you fit your story into. Genre is the essence that flows out of your stuff. It’s the soul in your project that pushes it to fulfillment the way Aristotle says the soul of a zebra pushes it to have black and white stripes and so that the zebra never wakes up one day with the mane of a lion. Signs you are unclear in the soul of your story are notes like this:
– The story never really gets us to tears, and it never really gets us to laughs. It never gets us to fear and suspense, and it never gets us to inspiration.
– This script feels like two different movies. It started feeling like “The Insider,” but then devolved into “Hang Over.”
– The writer seems to be going for black comedy here. But the thing about comedy is, it’s funny. Even when it’s black.
– This movie has a twelve year old protagonist, but then there are scenes full of R-rated language. Who is the audience for this piece?