Screenwriting, I’m learning, is kind of like cooking. There’s a basic broth/recipe (formula, structure, however you prefer to describe it), and then you add your own personal ingredients to the mix. Then comes the taste testing and the tweaking.
And just like with food, no one soup is to everyone’s taste.
What got me thinking about this is the fact the rom-com I co-wrote has had some wildly varying feedback from a number of readers. My co-author and I wrote and added stuff and took out stuff until we thought we had a pretty good “dish.” Friends read it and said, “Too much salt,” or “Needs more pepper.” So we tweaked our recipe and sent the script out.
One agent said, in effect, “It’s overcooked.”
Another reader really, really liked it. (Now we’re waiting to see if it goes anywhere in that particular competition.)
And yet another reader also really, really liked it but still said something “tasted funny.” Well, what he actually said was there were some “stylistic details” were lacking. So maybe it didn’t so much as “taste funny” as was missing some ingredient, though he didn’t seem able to specifically name what that ingredient might be. Still, he did say he’d look at another draft AND would possibly consider the writers for other work. That’s a bit flattering.
The rule of thumb, for me, is if a lot of people make the same remark—if several people say there’s too much tomato or whatever—that’s when I know to take that remark seriously. If, on the other hand, one person says there’s too much tomato and another says there’s not nearly enough . . . Well, I probably need a third opinion. But on the whole, I can go with my gut about those kinds of things. Because some people just really do or do not like tomato, and so even a little would be too much, or even a lot would still have them asking for more.
This probably goes for prose as well. Workshops are handy, and beta readers and critique partners, and if you’re getting a lot of the same notes from many different people, then it’s probably time to revisit whatever issue the readers are having. But if one person loves something and another person hates it . . . Either get more input or go with what feels right to you as the author.
As for the rom-com, it seems like a lot of readers find it very commercially viable. We may yet see success with it. Someone, somewhere, may find our work suits his or her palate.