Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Maybe you should give up screenwriting.

Not me, you.

After all, the real money is in screenwriting instruction. Write a manual, lead a seminar. It's more lucrative and easier than selling a script.

Are manuals bad?

Not exactly. Manuals can't teach you how to write a good script, but they can show you how good scripts work, so you have at least a fighting chance of writing your own good script.

Field, McKee, Seger, Truby, Snyder. They all have their strong points and their weak points. Read all or none or some number in between. Won't hurt, but no manual is a substitute for breaking down films and scripts scene by scene and figuring out how they do what they do.

My favorite screenwriting manuals aren't written about screenwriting.

John Gardner's two books on writing literary fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction, have excellent advice on how to learn to write, how stories work, exercises for the writer to sharpen the skills, and the writer's training and education.

It's up to you to translate Gardner's advice on writing literary fiction into the world of screenwriting. In order to do that, you need to have a broad knowledge of feature films, their history and theory, and ideally, some experience making films and videos. Theater experience and a knowledge of acting are also quite valuable.

My other favorite is David Ball's Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays This slim little book isn't a screenwriting manual, but it can teach you most of what you need to know about analyzing the scripts you read. It's intended for the theater, but it works for movies too.

Ball reminds us that at any given time, a big chunk of the audience is dying to take a piss. It isn't easy to make them stay in their seats, but a good script can do it.

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