Books on writing ---
In order to write well one should read. Not only novels or scripts of established or great authors but also manuals on writing. It’s true that no handbook or teacher can ‘give you the ability’ to become an author. Still even talent need nursing and study. Reading books or scripts of great authors can give you in inside of how they do it but it are good instruction manual that tell you how to get there.
However not all manuals will help you the way you had hoped – partly because some are not what they promised to be. Partly because they don’t suite your needs or their approach don’t fit your way of doing things. That makes it hard to pick the books that really can help you --- of course if you got money to burn and an ocean of time to squander you can perhaps afford to buy a few hundred of them --- and sift those out who will benefit you. Plus you don’t need to read further --- but if you are not one of those lucky few --- this list of my reviews of the few manuals I read may well help you ---
Of course we all know the list of those manuals every writer should read – The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler) – Story (Robert McKee) – The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell) -
So I’m not wasting time on them. Only one observation about some of those manuals --- these must read books have also a down site. They introduced a formula – a Hollywood standard because everyone reads them and follows the advice given. And sparked off an eruption of well manicured scripts & stories with predictable story lines – stereotype characters who lack freshness. Its true each good story has three acts - a beginning, a middle and an end. And if we don’t want to confuse or alienate our viewers & readers too much we have to respect this line up. Even the ancient Greeks knew that. But believing that act one should end on page 10 and the next act on page 30 etc. is a step too far. I feel story acts should fit the story – the story should not be constrain by a concrete format. The story has to flow – have its own live and own pace. If the beginning is a bit longer than normal but it benefits the overall story then why shouldn’t it be a tiny bit longer? Should we for this reason cut up - knock about something good because it has to fit the format? Does each story benefit from the rigid set ‘turning-points’ or ‘climax’ on this and that page of the script? Don’t think so. As long the writer respect the ‘flow’ of the story – the credible plot with convincing characters and the tempo suited for that particular story what happens on page thirty or fifty or seventy five doesn’t matter. As the viewers & readers will be to enthralled in the story of the characters to notice the turning-point is a bit early or a bit late!
Now about the books who helped me improve my writing ---
The Soul of Screenwriting – On writing, Dramatic Truth and Knowing Yourself (Keith Cunningham) In this book Keith Cunningham brings together the knowledge he accumulated over more than twenty years of his screenwriting and story development seminars. Inspired by the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and psychologist Jean Houston. It digs deeper than just any other manual on writing. It’s not one more book about getting the plot points right and screenwriting by the numbers but an profound study of the art of creating a story that works. (from the back cover: Keith Cunningham argues that it is only stories that have a voice that truly speak to the audience – and to gain that voice, the writer needs commitment, enthusiasm, and an urge to get to the core of the dramatic conflict without resorting to escapism.)
Published by www.continuumbooks.com ISBN 978-0-8264-2869-1
Keith Cunningham is a screenwriter and consultant who divides his time between the US and Europe. He can be found at www.keithcunningham.net.
The art of plotting. (Linda J. Cowgill) She starts her introduction in the book with a question.
What is screenwriting?
A. An occupation
B. An art form
C. A disease
And this tells us already a lot of what kind of book it is. Linda J. Cowgill, has written for all the major studios and currently heads the screenwriting department at the Los Angeles Film School. And this gave her a good inside of the business of writing scripts that get into production as well as how someone can ‘teach’ others the craft of writing. Undoubtedly this adds to the quality of this book. It doesn’t deal solemnly with how plots should be structured but also how you can add emotion, suspense and depth to your screenplay. She also talks about film segments something that is not often included in other manuals alto understanding how those ‘segments’ work is an important factor to help you create a better story! She also wrote two other books on writing scripts – Writing Short Films and Secrets of Screenplay Structure but I haven’t read both of them. But if they are as good as this book it could be worth spending some money on them…
Published by www.watsonguptill.com ISBN-13: 978-1-58065-070-0
How to Write a Damn Good Thriller (James N. Frey) A step-by-step guide for novelists and screenwriters it says on the front cover and it’s not a bold selling tagline but the trued. The book gives you everything to help you plot out and write a good thriller without falling in the trap of cliché and losing your plot in marginal sub lines or ideas. In spite of the considerable facts and advice he gives, he keeps the tone of his book light-hearted – what makes it also fun to read. Another book by him:
How to Write a Damn good mystery if you really into mystery and thrillers you should read this book too; it’s an in-dept study of what makes a story a mystery how the characters work in should stories, things to avoid (and boy there are a lot of ‘logic’ things that can make your mystery dull and boring!!)
James N. Frey is the author of several books on the craft of fiction writing and nine novels, including the Edgar Award-nominated The Long Way To Die. He teaches creative writing and is a featured speaker at writers’ conferences throughout the United States and Europe. You can visit his web site at www.jamesnfrey.com.
Published by www.stmartins.com ISBN 978-0-312-57507-6
Writing for emotional impact (Karl Iglesias) Karl was one of my teachers at Writer’s University (L.A) and he also teaches at UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Program, the Screenwriting Expo and writes a regular column on the craft for Creative Screenwriting magazine. While is himself a screenwriter and sought-after script doctor and consultant. This book helps you to put depth into your characters and the motif of their actions. Evil or good. It also tells you how to do it and what makes characters likable or disliked --- and when using a evil lead how to make sure the audience won’t be turned away by it. If you have purchased a copy of this book you’re also eligible to receive a free PDF file of The Emotional Thesaurus.
If you would like to know the upcoming classes – writing workshops run by Karl visit www.karliglesias.com
Published by www.grahamstudios.com ISBN 1-59594-028-6
Screenwriting – The Sequence Approach (Paul Joseph Gulino) This book delve into the most overlooked tool that can make your screenplay great. From the back cover - A screenplay can be understood as being built of sequences of about fifteen pages each, and by focusing on solving the dramatic aspects of each of these sequences in detail, a writer can more easily conquer the challenges posed by the script as a whole.
The sequence approach was first used in early Hollywood movies – until the 1950s most screenplays were formatted with sequences explicitly identified. Then this procedure got abandoned alto the concept is to a certain extent pick up again by film schools. The system is explained by breaking down well known – successful movies like Fellowship of the ring – The Graduate – North by Northwest. And I felt it was well worth to read this book in order to better understand how stories work. Paul Joseph Gulino is a produced screenwriter and playwright. He is Associate Professor of Screenwriting at Chapman University in California.
Published by www.continuumbooks.com ISBN 0-8264-1568-7
Developing Characters for Script Writing and Writing Dialogue for Scripts both by (Rib Davis) both books are great tools to improve your skills for creating characters and understanding how dialogue works in scripts. The tone of the books makes them easy to read and most of it helps you remember his advice while you are writing! They are both part of the series Writing Handbooks from the publisher of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. And certainly a must have for anyone serious about writing a good script!
Rib Davis has over fifty scripts performed on stage, radio and screen. He is an award-winning playwright and has worked as script reader for both the BBC and the Arts Council of Great Britain.
Published by www.acblack.com