Thursday, January 21, 2010
You Can Critique a Script, But Not a Story
The other night I had to sit in my filmmaking class at school and watch the rest of my class start a fifty-minute tirade critiquing and tearing apart my latest film idea. I'm not going to lie, I was frustrated beyond belief, trying so hard to articulate why I was feeling that way to the teacher and my fellow classmates, and finally it dawned on me, you can't critique a story.
In the film world, I do believe it is possible to critique a script. After all, screenwriting is an exact science. It is possible for someone, other than yourself to come in and critique a line of dialogue, tell you whether or not a scene is working, and make some suggestions as to how to open your script up a bit more cinematically. What I think is impossible, not just in film, but in storytelling in general, is to critique another author's story.
Every writer draws from their own life experiences, whether they realize it or not. That writer's personality dictates what type of stories they write, and I strongly believe that this is why you can't critique a story. A story is a reflection of the writer's heart-and-soul, and their own personality, their own beliefs in which they harbor toward life. To try and critique a story is like critiquing the individual writer.
In my opinion, any good writer worth their ilk does this. I can assure you Shakespeare wrote this way, even in more modern terms, folks like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling write this way, all good writers do it. Do you think someone like Stephen King would change his story just to appease some reader who doesn't like an aspect of it? No, because it's his story, not theirs.
There is no such thing as a universal story. Every single person on Earth is different, but that is what makes us all so interesting. No two people are alike, just how no two people are alike, no two people are going to agree precisely on the same things. Stories are meant to be told, but if they were meant to appeal to everybody, then there would be no more good stories left because the only way something could appeal to everyone is if it was diluted to the point to where it was devoid of any soul.
The point is, the reason we love to read a Stephen King novel, or a J.K. Rowling adventure, is we like to see that particular writer's take on the world and how it works. Will there be haters of what they write? Yeah, but for every person that hates it, there is going to be someone out there that loves it. In this situation, all you can simply do is write the story from your heart and don't care what anyone else thinks. Which is tough to do, on all accounts, but no one likes to read, hear, or watch a soulless story. The reason stories are so fascinating to begin with is because of the soul that the individual writer infused within.
Coming back to the world of film and my film class. At the end of the day, the people critiquing my film in class are not me, they have not had the same life experiences as I, they do not share my same personality, nor my same values or beliefs, thus it is impossible for them to critique my story for those very reasons. If I come across as stubborn or bullheaded, I'm sorry. I just want everyone to save your critiquing for when I've come up with what the story is, and rather tell me how you'd take the vague concept of the film and make it your own, let me make it my own, write the script, and then I'll listen to critiquing, cause as I said, screenwriting is a science, but storytelling is an artform.