You should start each set of notes with a lot of general and specific praise, not just because that’s nicer, or because you’re trying to soften the blow, but because you need to establish common cause. You need to make it clear that you “get it”, that you see what the writer is trying to do and you agree it’s worth doing, that you see where it is working and how it’s working.
Otherwise, the writer will likely say, “Oh well, this person just doesn’t get me”, or “doesn’t like this kind of story” or “didn’t read my work closely enough to figure it out”, and they’ll have every reason to feel that way. It’s up to you to prove to them that none of these things are true.
Of course, once you’ve gotten them to accept your praise, then you’ve got them on the hook. Now you can hit them with both barrels and they’ll still say, “Uh oh, I can’t reject this criticism without also rejecting that praise, so I have to accept them both.”
Okay, that’s four days of mollycoddling out of the way, so now can we finally get to some criticism?? Yes, tomorrow, we’ll finally begin to pick away at our poor writer.
But Wait, Before We Move On, Let Me Tack On One Last “Do” and “Don’t”:
You can mention classic universally-beloved works to emulate, but DO NOT EVER MENTION SIMILAR PROJECTS IN DEVELOPMENT (or ones that are about to come out, or recent superficially-similar flops, or cult classics they’ve never heard of!) My old Film School chums are probably sputtering with rage right now because I was the asshole who always did this, and it took me years to stop, even after several people told me how inappropriate it was.
Believe me: Nobody wants to hear this. It’s just dampens their enthusiasm and bums them out. And there’s no reason to tell them:
- That competing project will probably never come out, or be totally transformed by the time it does.
- If that competing project gets made, and it’s a hit, then that might actually help this project get made.
- If that project does come out (or already came out) and it’s a flop, then there will still be a market for a better version.