I recently received a note from someone on a spec script I’m writing which basically went like this:
“I don’t find the scene in which the Mafia guys shake-down the squatters believable. Homeless people have no money, the Mafia guys would just get rid of them if they wanted the building.”
What they really meant to say was this:
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do with that scene, because it’s not working for me. I don’t know what you’re trying to say with it, and therefore why it’s in the script at all. I’m so emotionally disengaged from it that my mind is picking apart the logic of the situation rather than the drama.”
When notes start tearing apart the logic of a scene, unless the person is an expert on the logic of the world you’re writing about, it’s generally because one or more of the character motivations, emotional impact, and purpose of the scene within the narrative are getting lost.
You don’t really want your readers and viewers thinking about the logic of the situation. You want to sweep them up in the drama of the situation instead.
I this case, I know the note giver is not more of an expert on Mafia behavior or squatters than I am. The who, what, when and where of my early years resulted in my spending more time with Mafia foot soldiers, squatters, and low-level drug dealers than 99% of people in the world.
That doesn’t really matter anyway, because the reader is steeped in reel world examples not real ones. So is the audience. My job is to sell them my particular reel world take, and if that means flouting what other movies have told them is the “proper” behavior of that kind of character — I need to do a sufficiently convincing job with the drama of the situation that they forget that it’s “wrong”.
In this case, the story itself sets-up the fact that these squatters are thieves and drug dealers. Earlier scenes involve seeing them stealing and dealing, and subsequently having a big party. They’ve got enough regular illicit income to be worth shaking down, if one’s business is shakedowns.
So it’s definitely not the logic of the scene that’s the problem. It’s that the purpose and placement within the narrative and the character motivations aren’t clear, and the emotional stakes aren’t resonating with the reader.
My job now is to figure out how to do all the things I’m trying to do in that scene in a way that works.
The focus of the fix needs to be on why I wrote the scene in the first place. Unless the logic is the crucial element of the scene (in this case, it isn’t), that’s not where time should be spent in terms of responding to the note.
This example illustrates a few things about taking and giving notes:
1) If you’re getting logic notes, the emotional drama of the scene is probably lacking. Even if the person is an expert in the logic of the world your story is set in, they’ll be more forgiving if the drama is there (so it’s a relative measure, so you also need to know your note giver). You should still consider fixing (or eliminating) the logically problematic elements of the scene, but it’s more important to solve the dramatic issues that allowed your reader to care about logic in the first place.
2) If you’re giving logic notes, try to do the note recipient a favor and think about why you weren’t drawn into the scene enough to ignore the logic in the first place. (You won’t always know, but it’s worth thinking about.)
3) When you get any note, you have to think about what’s really the issue, not just take it at face value. The note giver almost never knows more about your characters and story world than you do, and they certainly never know more about your particular take on it. So notes are very useful as indicators, sometimes useful as diagnostics, and rarely useful as solutions.