Where to read and be read.

2009.09.14 | Screenwriting

You’ve written your first screenplay. Now what.

Most likely you’ve handed your 150+ page epic to a trusted friend who isn’t in the industry. They’ll provide some grammar notes here and there, but all you’ll get in the way of feedback is a gentle pat on the back.  Fist pumps won’t improve your writing. You need to get out there and share with other writers.

Here are three methods I use to improve my stories and my screenplays.

  1. In person writing groups
  2. Online peer to peer writer’s groups
  3. Paid coverage via contests.

I use the first two most often and the third very rarely. I say rarely because my wallet does not give me permission to hire people very often.

In Person Writing Groups

In Person Writing Groups Forming or joining a writing group in your area is one of the single best ways to improve your writing and story telling abilities.  The trick is to find the right group that fits your needs. Some groups may be ahead of you or some may leave you  feeling like you’re the sole expert in town. You need to strike the right balance and choose a group where you are challenged yet able to provide feedback to green writers without sacrificing yourself.

In other words, if you spend your entire time explaining the basics, how can you expect to get constructive authoritative feedback on your own material by other members? Also, be prepared to leave a group you have surpassed because they will slow you down and it does not serve you or your writing….unless you have a penchant and time for teaching.

The best place to find a screenwriting group that meets in person is Meetup.Com.  Almost every major city has a screenwriting group and if your city does not,  you can form your own.  I guarantee you, members WILL come out of the woodwork when you form a screenwriting group because  everyone and their mother wants to write a movie.  Click here to read an in depth article about how to find the right group.

Online Peer to Peer Review

I’ve used a couple places to read and be read by other writers.  In order of preference they are Triggerstreet.com, Zoetrope, and Screenwriter’s Utopia.

All of them operate the same way:  Read other screenplays to earn credits that you can apply to your own screenplay and have it reviewed.  This method provides a balanced way to make sure everyone gets their chance to receive objective and constructive criticism  on their screenplays.

The system isn’t perfect because big surprise, it runs on human ego.  Some people cannot take criticism. These are people you should avoid at all costs and if you are one of these people, get counseling. People who rail against every note they get are not writers and they are participating to have their egos stroked.

Every writer must give and receive objective feedback on stories to challenge the writing and not the writer. If you can’t do that, you don’t belong in this industry.

The trick with peer to peer reviews on sites like Triggerstreet is to look for repetitive notes or critiques.  If three people have wildly different reviews on your script, pick and choose the notes you feel might improve your story. Just as you do not like certain film genres, the same can be said of your own film. You can’t please everyone so don’t try.  However, if two or three reviews come up with the same note about a plot point, chances are you have a problem in your story that must be fixed.

On a side note regarding Triggerstreet:  I’ve learned over time that if you submit your screenplays on Thursday night, you stand the chance of earning the highest number of reviews per credit you spend.  The psychology behind doing it that way is people will have their weekends free to read scripts.

Paid Coverage via Contests

I have never paid anyone for coverage at this point in my career. They serve a purpose, but I have not yet needed them. At some point, I’m guessing I will, but so far I’ve had excellent feedback from industry professionals without having to fork over the equivalent of rent to have it done.

An alternate way to get feedback that is completely anonymous is through various contests.  Not all contests provide written feedback and unless they are the cream of the crop, I don’t enter them without this addition.  Contests are expensive enough as it is, and I don’t feel it’s over the line to expect the smallest amount of feedback in conjunction with my entrance fee.

BlueCat Screenwriting Competition is a great place to enter your script, because they are one of the few that do provide professional critiques of your work in exchange for the contest fee.  I have entered this contest and felt their feedback was professional and quite useful.

In a future post, I’ll discuss my overall distaste for contests, but I will acknowledge here that they serve a purpose at some point in your career.

In conclusion,  those are the few ways I use to get feedback on my stories. I also rely on trusted friends in the industry, but you won’t earn those immediately.  I spent several years in the film industry under a different job umbrella so my collection is larger than the average writer starting off their career.


I’ve done about 19 script commentaries on triggerstreet.com, garnered some praise and thanks from writers that told me I had illuminated a problem for them, and I posted a script I was working on that I knew was flawed, and did get I think it was 3 comments, the third being right on the button.

What do I mean by “the button?” This woman did tell me how to improve this script, which is not at all what I wanted. But in the discourse on the problem, she explained what I had already known, but also (and this is important) confirmed that what I thought I’d done right was indeed either right or OK.

What I learned that was invaluable, and that only the trained eye of another person could see, is that I was right about the flaw, and that this flaw appears (in spite of myself and all I can do to avoid it) again and again in my screenplay attempts.

It’s there because my brain has been trained (in the school of hard editorial knocks) to think NOVEL STRUCTURE not screenplay structure.

But because I understand how I learned novel structure, I know I can capture the mental gymnastics to learn this screenplay structure trick.

Then I got a “coverage” page from a contest I had tossed one of my screenplays into — and LO! the reader spotted and nailed the exact flaw I knew was there. I jumped for joy!

Seeing your work through the eyes of others is the only way to get “perspective” and concoct your next learning assignment.

Look me up on triggerstreet.com as JLichtenberg and you can read some of the screenplays I commented on, then read my comments and perhaps gain some perspective. Triggerstreet.com is well organized to build a textbook of screenwriting tailor made for each person.

Oh, I took down my screenplay not to rewrite it, (because the flaw is structural and it’s not worth it) but to wait until I have a whole new screenplay to post that I think does not have this flaw. (likely it will have it; the first few times you always blow it).

You can also find me on LinkedIn as Jacqueline Lichtenberg, and on twitter as JLichtenberg, and http://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg

Or find almost all of my feeds on friendfeed.com.

You’ll find my friendfeed widget on my blogs, and on http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com with a lot of ways to follow me.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Jacqueline Lichtenberg ( September 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm )

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