Because I get email from intrepid researchers trying to find info on this topic, I’m creating this quickie guide to story consulting (aka story analysis, script doctoring, etc.).
First, check out this post on coverage. It outlines the bare-bones basics of how to prepare for work as a script reader. Readers are the people who evaluate screenplays’ viability for production. Readers prepare “coverage” or “reader’s reports” that let their employers know, at a glance, the pros and cons of a particular project. They are often the first line of defense for production companies, filmmakers, and others and are used to weed out the riff-raff.
Ok, it is, in a sense, but it isn’t because for a story consultant, reading a screenplay the first time is just the beginning of a much more involved relationship with the work and, ideally, with the screenwriter.
Story consultants help writers through difficulties that hinder the full realization of their vision. It’s a practice that is partially about what’s on the page and partially about attuning to the writer in order to provide guidance (…in order to affect what’s on the page). It’s as much about the stories as the relationships.
Here’s an overview of the story consultant’s process:
Step 1: A quick read of the work (screenplay, novel, memoir, etc.)
Step 2: An immediate in-depth read, making notes along the way.
Step 3: Meet the writer–if possible and if haven’t already–to determine their project goals.
Step 4: Make in depth notes, reviewing work as many additional times as necessary.
Step 5: Working session with writer to discuss notes and strategies for rewriting.
Repeat as desired.
In between the lines is much mulling and digesting, researching similar stories, and making connections of the seemingly random sort. What no one wants to hear is that finding the blocks in a project and seeing a path through are abilities developed after many years of study and practice in combination with an innate talent for seeing order through chaos. I call this X-factor, this sixth sense, The Eye. And The Eye is a direct descendant of the same innate talents that make story consultants first, above all, writers.
Story consultants differ from editors in that we are not only focused on the mechanics of a piece but on understanding the emotional drives that make a story ring true and guiding the writer towards their best work. At least that’s how I approach it. My practice relies upon the work of the masters (McKee, Field, Booker, etc.) and adds my own powers of observation, deduction, intuition, and, perhaps most important of them all, empathy.
This is what makes story consultancy a highly personal and very effective art.