Is anyone else sick of screenwriting books?!?

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    Re: something different using the basics of storytelling

    I am not a pro screenwriter but earned an MFA in writing and have published in another genre. I also teach writing and literature at the university level, so I've seen a lot of writing books, from popular how-to books to those that have become classroom texts. While one or two books might have been helpful to me as a student, the vast majority of writing books are not worth much to the serious writer.

    Probably the most useful ones, in screenwriting anyway, are those that offer genre-specific advice (do's and don'ts of action or horror, etc.) and those that offer honest insights into the business, since screenwriting is - more than any other form - dependent on business. You can publish your own poetry if you have to, a la Blake or Whitman, but producing your own films is more costly.

    When I first wanted to do screenplays, I picked up Syd Field's book. Of the however-many-pages this book has, there were only two pieces of information that I found useful:

    1. Screenplays have structure.
    2. One page = one minute of film.

    The first is really a confirmation of what writers (who read) already know, and the second was new to me. The rest of the book I forget, except that there was a section on an unproduced boat-race script that sounded positively dreadful.

    That said, I used a BN card someone gave me for Xmas and, against my better judgment, ordered a much-hyped screenwriting text. It was a waste of free money. When you subtract the marketing info you can get online for free, the sample pages (ditto), the formatting points you can learn from software by pressing [TAB], and the "workbook" pages (ugh), there's not a lot there.

    This book also does something I have a particular contempt for: it caters to the would-be writer who is in need of constant encouragement, emotional support, and ego-gratification. You are the next best thing, etc. There's a huge market out there for this sort of thing, apparently, that consists of writers who feel utterly defeated before they have even started. The very worst are the books whose entire M.O. is to be inspirational, a 200 page pep-talk, a psych-up. They have no real zen but plenty of "zen stink."

    I could write several pages on this whole phenomenon, but I'll curb my impulse to rant and suggest a few books that I feel are helpful to student/new writers in any genre.

    Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
    The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
    Elements of Style, Strunk and White

    I also agree that the biographical books are worth a read, wherein we notice that every successful writer's experience is a bit different, despite how-to writers' attempts to systemetize. And, of course, lots of literature, as someone mentioned above.

    DT

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    Re: something different using the basics of storytelling

    I've read a pile of them. Keep most of them in the bathroom. Most have held at least a tidbit of insight and have thusly been worth the price and the time.

    I don't think there is a gene for writing screenplays. There is no true instinct for it. To say you either have the talent or you don't is, I think, not an accurate assessment. One does not venture into any other field, shirking education, stating that one can do it or one can't. One studies. One reads. One gets the best education in the field possible.

    That said, there is a pile of redundant material between the covers of most of these books. While I don't regret any of my purchases, there are a few I regard above the others.

    ADVENTURES IN THE SCREENTRADE by William Goldman. More anecdotal than instructive, but a wonderful read. This book made me want to write screenplays.

    STORY by Robert McKee. This guy has an unsurpassed understanding of storytelling. No mysticism. No BS. I enjoy writing more because of this. I enjoy watching movies more because of this. This is THE book on the craft of screenwriting.

    THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING by Lajos Egri. Find me a psychologist who knows as much about human motivation. This is a book for living as much as writing. You will understand yourself and those around you with new insight. And oh what it does for your characters.

    THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler. Unlocks the power of myth enabling a greater understanding of stories. Reading this book led to rushes of insight into a dozen or more movies that I THOUGHT I understood very well. Bound lightening.

    THE WHOLE PICTURE by Richard Walter. A warm style that seems like he's just over your shoulder pointing the way.

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    Re: ANGEL

    qparrish...

    Oh don't get me wrong, if you've never studied SW before, then by all means read whatever you can but just be prepared to hear a lot of the same thing after a while. Buyer beware. Actually I really have no room to bash any SW book author: God knows I couldn't get a job as a Prof, or a consultant. Don't let them kid you though, when you're looking at the actual mechanics there's really not a whole lot to it. The rest however, which is the bulk of being a good writer (I think) is the stuff that can't be read or taught but learned only through practice and experience. My 0.04$

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    ANGEL

    It sounded bad to me, too.

    I think the screenwriting books are really helpful to people (like me) who are really interested in screenwriting but haven't had a class, never read a script before, etc. I read about 20. Then I wrote two horrible screenplays to learn how. Then I took a class, and now I don't feel I need the books as much.

    One thing that is really useful is to find a movie you LOVE, that seems perfect, and look at its structure. Like the Wizard of Oz.

    I found a book that analyzes movies based on their structure. It's pretty intense and you can't just zip through it, but it's good. Secrets of Screenplay Structure.

    Or you could just watch Indiana Jones, Wizard of Oz, etc. a zillion times and just learn that way.

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    dlshooter -

    I bought Lew Hunters Screenwriting 434 a year ago and I must say . . . you are absolutely correct. I couldn't make it through halfway. It was horrible. And his constant pitching of his "Angel" movie which sounded such like 99 cent bargin bin material. Recently, I have been studying character development and his chapter on characters is simply horrible. Not worth the time. He puts a bad face on UCLA which has a fantastic extension program.

    On an aside, I have a bunch of screenwriting books, but I most often turn to "The Screenwriter's Bible" by David Trottier. The rest of my books are simply for reference. When I really am in need to learn hardcore, I'll buy a contemporary script in downtown Burbank.

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    I've sort of sworn off screenwriting books for a while. I have a bookshelf full of them and yes, they say the same thing for the most part. I however finished a book recently on the "biz" end vs. a "how-too", and the writer recommended a book I didn't have as the "end-all, gotta have SW book!!!" So I bit...and guess what? I just finished Lew Hunters Screenwriting 434, and what a surprise: absolutely nothing I haven't read a dozen times already! In addition to that he did the three things I have grown to despise more than anything in SW books:
    1. Listing his own obscure, never even made it to video, TV movie along with four classic films by the Gods as..."five greats every SW should study!" (Congrats for his work, he had a produced credit! But plugging it like this?)
    2. Used his own unoptioned, unsold, unproduced script as "the model of how it's done right!"
    3. Said script, roughly half the book, was PAINFULLY BORING!

    ...actually four things: name-dropping ad-nauseum.

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    Re: something different using the basics of storytelling

    I think Lionclaw started this discussion (I'm not going to go back and check) with a comment about having bought fifteen books on screenwriting.

    That was about a dozen books too many. I think it <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> is<!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> important to read a good book on formatting, like the Trottier book, and then a couple of books on writing screenplays, like Hauge's <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> Writing Screenplays That Sell<!--EZCODE ITALIC END--> and inevitably, of course, Syd Field's <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> Screenplay<!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->. Plenty of others are available, too.

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Re: something different using the basics of storytelling

    There comes a time when every kid needs to take the stabilisers off his bike.

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    something different using the basics of storytelling

    try this one:
    www.amazon.com/exec/obido...s&n=507846

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    Yes and no. Many do seem awfully identical.

    Among the non-clones are:
    Legri's book, mentioned above.
    Seeger's Making A Good Script Great (about REwriting).
    The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters.
    And
    Secrets of Action Screenwriting has some big golden gems I found nowhere else.

    40winks

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  • Guest's Avatar
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    I'll be signing my book at ShowBiz Expo on Monday afternoon, too.

    - Bill

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Books

    The funny thing about screenwriting books is, you never know which one is going to offer a gem of advice that could potentially unlock the box.

    Information is power. Use what you want, and discard the rest, creating your own unique formula for successful screenwriting.

    As far as cost, how can you put a dollar figure on a book that can dramatically change your life?

    I had the pleasure of speaking to critic John Simon once. After asking him which books I should read to improve my writing, he pretty much said, quite seriously, to read everything that's ever been written in the history of the English language. In other words, don't limit your scope of learning, even if the books you've read have been a waste of time. At the end of the day, we're better people for it.

    Still, now if only those book prices would go down a little.

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    SNOTTY?????

    what as snotty about what i posted?
    saying that i learn reading?
    that i like learning?
    that i love the art and craft of screenwriting?
    i hope you never tell a young kid in school that learning is snotty.

    if i had said, BOOKS SUCKS, you proabaly would love me for saying that.........huh?

    vm

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Hmmm

    That was kind of a snotty thing to say.

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    nope not me

    I'm never sick of books, I love learning and reading about craft and the business of screenwriting!

    If you're sick of books then stop reading them, BUT no matter how much you know or THINK you know, theres always room for improvements and books can come in handy.

    Imagine your Surgeon saying,
    "Oh the hell with books, I'm sick of them. They all say the same thing.
    I'm just gonna get to cutting, gimme a knife"

    Boy if that ever happens, we'll all be in bad shape! LOL

    VM

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