Test Screening

I read an update the other day about a certain in-production movie some of you marshmallows might know about. The update was about test screenings, which is something I didn’t know a whole lot about. While the movie is still unfinished, while the parts are all there but only partially assembled, while the music isn’t set and the screens are all blank, a group of people watch it and rip it to shreds. It reminds me a lot of the critique process for a novel.

View from Mulholland Drive
View from Mulholland Drive

In the update, the director talked about the first test screening he ever attended. He was told at the beginning to ignore all the unfinished bits and focus on the movie itself, but it was a hard thing to do. He ended up being much harsher on the film than he otherwise would have been.

I’m coming up to the end of my solo revisions on the Sea Story. Pretty soon I’ll be passing it off to first readers, and it’s a scary thing. The story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but it’s still unfinished. It’s completely unpolished. The characters are still changing, the scenes are still being rearranged, the themes can be strengthened, and there are a hell of a lot of typos I’ve not yet caught (or even tried to catch — it’s still early days).

I’ve had a lot of different people read my stories, and it never stops being scary, but the right kind of reader can remove a little of the terror. You need to find the kind of reader who can see past the typos. The kind of reader who sees through the unfinished aspects to the potential of what the story could be.

You’ve got to see it like carving a diamond out of a chunk of rock. I’ve done as much as I can on my own, and I know there’s still a whole lot of rock there, but my eyes are tired and I’m ready to sub out for awhile. My readers are there to tell me what my eyes can’t because I’ve been staring at the rock for too long. They won’t do the work for me, but they’ll help guide my strokes.

LA: Diamond in the rough
LA: Diamond in the rough

But the wrong kind of reader? They might just see rock. They might tell me there is no diamond, it’s a lost cause, or worse, to chisel in the wrong place. The wrong kind of reader can kill a book before it’s really started.

It’s a hard thing, because before you find those precious critique partners you have to let a whole lot of different people read your work without knowing if they’re the first kind of reader or the second. The key, I think, is having a really clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve. You have to imagine what the diamond might look like before you really have it in your grasp.

The good news is, I don’t have a team of producers looking over my shoulder telling me which strokes to take and potentially listening to bad advice. It’s just me and my critique partners, and we’re still looking for that diamond, no matter how deep it might be buried.

Still beautiful
Still beautiful

Much love to my wonderful critters.

Test Screening

7 thoughts on “Test Screening

  1. Interesting about the test screening — definitely makes a good analogy for the task of first readers. If I’m lucky enough to be among the early readers of the Sea Story, I think it would be great to hear a bit about your vision for the story…because I think feedback is rarely helpful if the critiquer doesn’t share the author’s vision. (I’ve had that experience — when a reader obviously didn’t “get” my writing, so unfortunately the feedback wasn’t especially helpful, besides feeling a bit ouchie.)

    So thrilled for you that you’re making great progress on the Sea Story!

    1. bethanyrsmith says:

      That’s a really good idea, Shari. I’ve never tried to explain my vision for the story before it’s critiqued, but I can see how that would be really helpful.

      And of course you’re on the list! Look out for an email from me in early (or mid or late) November 🙂

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