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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:28 AM   #1
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good screen-writing book?

Anyone have any recommendations for books on writing for the screen? TV/shorts/features/whatever, doesn't matter precisely, I'm just trying to find out if anyone's read anything that opened them up to new ways of thinking about storylines and plot mechanics.

Writing's a pain in the ass, and it'd be nice if I could find something that focuses on creation of a good story, and ways to overcome blocks, get out of ruts, things like that. Anyone feel me on this?

Don't really care if it has all that formatting stuff.

Also, not really looking for something that talks to much (or at all, really) about PSAs, commercials, News, that kind of stuff. I want to focus on fictional narrative storytelling. Guess that leaves out documentaries as well. Thanks.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 08:55 AM   #2
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Josh,

I own a shelf full of screenwriting books, and without a doubt the two that I find most usefull, and that I recommend to my students.

"How to write a movie in 21 days" by Vikki King

"The Writers Journey" by Christopher Vogler
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Old August 27th, 2004, 09:00 AM   #3
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I also like WRITERS JOURNEY -- I recommend GOOD SCRIPT, BAD SCRIPT as a good bathroom reader and STORY is good for the art of storytelling -- have both the book and the audiotape versions and, although abridged, love popping in the audiotape on those long drives.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 10:50 AM   #4
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My favorite writing book is still Developing Story Ideas (my post/my review). Joseph Campbell's interviews on DVD are also highly recommended. I rented them off Netflix. And the articles on WordPlayer.com are a fun read.

But a good writing partner is still worth their weight in gold, better than any book - if you can stomach it.

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Old August 27th, 2004, 11:00 AM   #5
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It's fashionable to poo poo McKee's "Story" but I think it's worth reading once if you know that you will leave it behind and come up with your own 'rules'. McKee likes to tell you this is the way it is but it is just one man's rules.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 11:41 AM   #6
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Thanks guys, lots of good ideas.

Who's this McKee guy, and what's so bad about his book?


By the way, I literally dreamed I had an XL2 last night (I was, for some reason, allowed to borrow it, free of charge, from a local rental house). Could I be more of a dork? I was in the midst of trying to hook it up to my monitor to check how accurate the color reproduction was when I awoke.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 12:00 PM   #7
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Josh,

Dude, you need to get out more.

Richard

(Just left Houston for sunny Northern California... loving it.)
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Old August 27th, 2004, 03:14 PM   #8
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Ok guys, I'm soliciting more recommendations. I've looked at the reviews/synposes of these book on Amazon, and I'm not sure they're quite what I'm searching for.

Seger's "Making a Good Script Great" (or whatever it's called) looked pretty good, but I'm just not sure.

Maybe I don't need a book, and just need to sit down and think hard.

Here's my situation, though, if the elaboration helps with any future recommendations: I have a story, and it's quite short. The beginning is cemented, the ending fairly certain, the in-between hazy. That's where my trouble is. Now I KNOW I could bang it out, but I want it to be good, so what I'm really searching for is a book that doesn't focus on three-act structure, and things of that nature, but really gets down into helping the writer "think outside the box" (sorry, it fits), finding new angles to attack problems, creative ways to structure plot, more interesting, and perhaps unusual ways to tell a story. Also, pretend that I'm working on a simple, silly, stupid, fluffy little comedic (hopefully!) piece, and that well-defined, fleshed out characters really don't matter.

Sorry if this is a reiteration of what in said in the first post, and further sorry if anyone's offended by pickiness. I still appreciate the advice though, but as I said, looking through the descriptions of the books, and the reviews, they don't sound like exactly what I'm looking for. Thanks.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 03:33 PM   #9
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Josh,

No offense, but most of those books are exactly what you are looking for. You said you have a beginning and an end, but no middle.

Yeah, that's everyones problem. It's called the second act. You might not think you want to write in a three act structure, but you are already thinking in one. So best to buckle down and master it.

You are also asking for nuts and bolts answers to "thinking outside the box" - kind of like asking for a blueprint for something that's never been blueprinted... follow me?

Honestly, BTU's are the only way to get a script completed. (Butt Time Units) Bang your script out, as bad as it seems.

Then go back and re-write it.

That's how it's done. "Don't get it right, get it written" is still the best advice I ever got. It's much easier and effective to fix/pollish a script you have in hand, then make every line perfect as you go along. "The writers Journey" is a great book about storytelling. Period. It outlines the hero's journey and how it is used in the structure of filmmaking. And before you look for a new way to do it, understand that even "non sequential" storytelling uses the same elements, it just mixes them up a bit. (Pulp Fiction has a beginning, middle and end... they are just out of the ordinary order.)

Seriously though, you have a basic grasp of film syntax, as most of us do. Write your story the way it feels. THEN take any one of these excellent books, and use it as a toolkit to go back and look at what you have written, to try and find the rough spots - the places you know aren't quite right and finish them off.

Good luck
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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:06 PM   #10
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Alright, then *burp*. Humble pie, eaten, digested, and excreted.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:10 PM   #11
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Hey, didn't mean to force feed you anything! We all get stuck in the second act. Only way out... is through.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:12 PM   #12
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Alright, thanks. I'll look through those suggestions, and see which seems the "rightest."

Has anyone read that "Making a Good Script Great?"
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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:17 PM   #13
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Richard's right. Throw a stick down any street and you'll hit six people with "beginnings and ends". It's the simplest and most trivial part of writing that requires no more than two sentences and only the faintest glimmer of creativity. The middle "2nd act" is what separates writers from posers.

Books may offer some inspiration and a bit of guidance. Robert McKee has become a pretty wealthy man on that promise. But, like any other artistic endeavor, it's no substitute for turning off the music, secluding yourself and trying to just do it. Also like other artistic endeavors, the best instruction and inspiration comes from studying others' work. In this case, reading good writing (not necessarily watching movies) and seeing good live theater.

Truly good, imaginative writers are scarcer than Saddam's wmd's, a situation reflected in so much of today's entertainment industry. Forget about telling yourself that it's a "pain in the ass". Just sit down on that noun and take an earnest swing at writing. Even if you eventually decide it's not your cup of tea the effort will teach you to appreciate (and depreciate) the work of others.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 04:19 PM   #14
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A friend of mine told me never to let anyone know about this boodk. Less who know about it the better.

Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade William Froug.

I think thats the title. But I'm moving so I've packed it away.

But it the best book.
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Old August 27th, 2004, 05:07 PM   #15
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Josh, McKee basically says this, screenwriters have forgotten what makes a good story good and he spends several chapters analyzing what a story is, what characters are, why stories may be structured a certain way, how to make the audience care about your story. He uses a few examples from movies over and over again.

It is fashionable to poo-poo him because he has become a guru. He has these seminars (which are his bread and butter) where young screenwriters will faun over him. If you ever see 'Adaptation', this is in that movie.

I found "Story" a good read but like all books you take what you like and discard the rest. Don't be slavish to anything you read. The way his book is structured - as an argument - he expects you to agree with him all the way through. I would recommend it if you have never really sat down to consider what makes a good story good (or in fact, what makes a story at all).

I've read a lot of amateur scripts (including one of my own that I've shelved) and many of them never get beyond:

A bunch of stuff happens. There's good guys and bad guys. The good guys win.

A story is a story because all of the actions have a justification that matters to the audience. A story is a story because there are characters who matter to the audience. Stories have weight because the 'stuff that happens' have consequence to the audience.

McKee criticizes modern screenwriters because they don't know what makes a story good, they are just aping good films that have been made before so when they try replicating it, they can only make copies or when they go beyond, they fail because they haven't examined what makes people care about their story.

Of course, I agree, but not with all of his solutions.

You can do a search in this forum for McKee and find other posts about the book.
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