I came across this interesting article while reading one of the myriad sources of screenwriting advice out there. I believe I found this particular one through Reddit’s /r/screenwriters forum. The article by Mr. Krueger is interesting for two reasons, the fact that the author decries paying for any type of notes and the advice given at the end of the article for what notes should be.
A month ago, when I finished a draft of Peripheral I was relatively happy with, I considered paying for coverage. I’ve used BL3.0 several times and, while generally happy with the service, was left wanting something more in-depth. BL3.0 notes are great for what they are – brief snapshots of what works and what doesn’t work with a script – but they very rarely offer specifics for more nuanced aspects of a script.
In the end I decided to stick with BL3.0 because other notes services are so expensive. Although the notes given by BL3.0 aren’t always the best, the service itself is probably the best value for a screenwriter at the moment. After reading that article, I’m kind of glad I made the decision I did. This is for a simple reason; Regardless of how good the notes you receive are they won’t get you anywhere.
Sure, if the notes are generally positive you may be able to use that in a query letter but that only works if the person you’re querying has a familiarity with the coverage person. That’s a longshot. I even hesitated to use my score from BL3.0 in my query, but came to the conclusion (after research and asking around) that BL3.0 has goodwill within the industry and is well known.
Mr. Krueger also makes a strong case for what types of notes are best. The majority of criticism I’ve received on my writing has been vague and useless, or the result of the person critiquing me wanting to change my story into something it’s not. For someone to say, “I didn’t like how Johnny chopped down the tree,” doesn’t mean anything because it lacks context, either within the story or emotional context based on the experience of the reader. A reader that says, “I didn’t think it made sense for Johnny to chop down the tree,” is offering better, if still vague, criticism because now it’s pointing at a larger problem. Why didn’t it make sense? Was it out of Johnny’s character? Was it too convenient for the plot? Those are legitimate questions a writer should be asking him/herself.
I don’t think any specific criticism should be discounted, as it mostly comes from a place of genuine concern. Sometimes, though, it may require deeper digging to find what the problem really is. For example, on The Inhabitors I’ve had more than one person say the story didn’t “grab them.” What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. Is it a pacing issue? A character issue? So I decided to tear the script apart scene-by-scene to figure out what each scene is contributing to character or story. What I’ve found is that in the second act the sequence of events is slightly disjointed and muddled. My next step is to unfuck it as best I can with a rewrite.
Finding solid criticism is a difficult thing to do as a writer of any sort. But there seems to be an entire industry that has been built on the belief that desperate writers will pay to be told they suck, regardless of whether or not being told they suck is constructive. I’m not sure there is anything that can be done about that, but that doesn’t mean we should totally avoid coverage services or discount criticism. Sometimes it might take a little creative thinking to understand the deeper problems that most people can only hint at for whatever reason. I may use a coverage service in the future but it will be with a critical eye, only if I have some extra income I don’t know how to spend, and only after I’ve exhausted friends and fellow writers to give me feedback.