Book Review: Advanced Screenwriting

This is the first book I read about screenwriting. You would think that an advanced book is probably not the best place to start but this one book was very accessible. You don’t always get your first choice when shopping in used bookstores, but sometimes you discover gems you weren’t expecting.

Advanced Screenwriting is a book for experienced writers as well as novices. It skips over the very basics and covers topics that are specific to screenwriting. Most of the ideas are covered in short chapters and require little background. Despite not having read other books on the topic I was able to follow along everything. It probably helps that I have read other writing books, specially on the topic of the hero’s journey.

Advanced Screenwriting

Screenwriting books focus strongly on structure and plot, character development, not so much on writing style. After all only dialog may survive rewrites during filming. Structure is one of my main tools as a way of communicating ideas. My favorite topics covered theme (one of the things I found most attractive about writing), opening scenes, sensory references, etc.

This book is great about discussing ideas and showing examples. Moreover, since the examples are movies as opposed to books, they can be covered more quickly, they are more universally known by most audiences and are easy/quick to research if one needs a refresher.

I’m fully convinced that learning screenwriting will be a great way to expand my knowledge of writing by focusing on the areas I know I am stronger at (themes, plotting, symbolism, ideas, etc)

Just to finalize, one other highlight of this book (and likely of many screenwriting manuals) is the focus on writing a story that’s accessible and that pulls the reader along. If your story doesn’t generate interest in the audience, they won’t follow along. Successful writing is not about Art, it’s about Storytelling.

More On Printed Books And The Future Of Traditional Publishers

Gene Doucette on publishers marketing their dwindling ebook sales—caused by their prizing strategies—as a positive sign:

It should come as very little surprise to you that after jacking up the prices of their ebooks at the start of 2015, the Big 5 sold fewer ebooks.

Now here’s the fun part, the part that just makes me shake my head and giggle and wonder how I can live in such extraordinary times. After six months of depressed ebook sales, the Big 5 announced that the ebook market was slowing down.

Not: “we priced ourselves out of the market and stopped selling as many books”. No no no. The ebook market! Is slowing down!

This was celebrated!

The collective madness of the publishing industry

On Punctuation

An different look at novels that highlights their particular composition (eg: dialog vs exposition):

Here is a comparison of some other books — notice how large a break A Farewell To Arms was from the past. There almost no commas, just sentences, dialogue. How refreshing and wild that must have been! Look at how spartan Blood Meridian is compared to everything. Pay attention to the semicolons which seem to have disappeared from writing.

Punctuation In Novels

Punctuation in novels

Libbie Hawker On Writing Speed

I’ve seen the ticked-off review of this book, and the discussion on writing forums that talk about how wrong I am to claim that speed is essential to a writing career. I understand that it’s not necessarily what some folks want to hear. But it is true—take it from someone who writes fiction full-time!—and it’s becoming truer every day.

There was an era when authors could make a living by writing only one or two books a year. There are still a few authors who manage to do just that. […] But as technology advances and eager indies bring more books to market with greater speed, even the long-established traditionally published authors struggle to keep up.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

Lindsey Brouker On The Long Tail Of Sales For Indie Authors

Lindsey Brouker, who has published excellent advice on launching a new pen name from scratch, writes the following about earning figures and the opportunity for independent authors.

The good news is that you don’t need to be anywhere within sniffing distance of the Top 100 on Amazon to make good money. Really good money.

If you find an indie author who has several full-priced ebooks (not 99 cents) in a series under a 10,000 sales ranking on Amazon, and they’re there consistently from month to month, that author is probably going to clear six figures this year. The more books you have out (that are selling at least moderately well), the easier it is to make that kind of money.

—Lindsey Brouker: Are There Really “Secrets” to Self-Publishing Success?

Lindsey shares the 101 of succeeding in the publishing market today:

I’m going to assume you’ve already read blogs and forums or have listened to podcasts and know the basics: write in a series, have awesome cover art, have a blurb that appeals to the target audience, have entertaining and well-edited stories, and pay attention to what’s working right now in the marketing world.

Lindsey also adds to the list developing your own voice, publishing consistently and marketing your books. As she puts it “your six-figure (and more) indie authors of today are people who have been publishing the kinds of books their readers want regularly for years.”

Book: Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy

Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy is a little book of 200 pages and an ugly cover that truly took me by surprise. The lessons in the book go straight to the point and are founded on literary theory and criticism (Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, etc). Crawford Kilian’s writing is accessible and entertaining, as well as direct and clear.

Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy - Cover

The first part of the book “Knowing your genre”, it’s mostly needed for those not familiar with Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I learnt about Connecticut Yankee the genre.

The second part really got my full attention and won me over: “The Craft of Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Killian covers every aspect of how to engineer a story. Notice I say “engineer” because his approach is very methodical covering all aspects of storytelling without leaving anything to chance. He is also aware that rules as meant to be broken, but only after you know, understand and master them. In this second part he covers: plot structure, scene building, story arch, character archetypes, etc, etc.

Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy - Cover

The book focuses particularly on the symbolism of writing and the importance of every piece of the plot (characters, location, etc) as supporting element for the main topic of the story. Repeatedly Killian encourages the writer to thing what the story is about, and to echo those ideas in every segment of writing.

The last part might be less relevant for independent writers today since it focuses on traditional publishing (mass market, trade paperback, etc). This book was originally published in 1998 (although this edition was from 2007), so it makes sense that it doesn’t cover self-publishing or ebooks.

Overall a great book for analytical minds, writer who like to plan ahead, and those who appreciate the subtleties of symbolism and connotations in writing.

Dalí on Failing

“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.” —Salvador Dalí


James Baldwin On Writing Endurance

James Baldwin talks about the one critical trait of accomplished writers:

Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

James Baldwin Advice On Writing

James Baldwin

On Printed Books And The Future Of Traditional Publishers

Bookstores are one of my favorite hangout places, and as much as I love digital publishing I have a soft spot for printed books.

The experience of reading is very personal and for many the ebook has become a better medium for reading than traditional books. If the current trend of coloring books for adults tells us something is that there is an opportunity for printed books, just not what we have experienced before. Ebooks won’t kill physical books but they will force their specialization.

In order to survive physical books should exploit their unique characteristics:

  1. Manipulation: Printed books are real objects you can manipulate, and so are great for note taking, coloring, and modifying in any which way.
  2. Unique layout: Like with any other object there is a relationship between the object itself and the user (reader in this case) handling them. The House of Leaves is a book that takes advantage of its own physicality with type printed in unique ways in pages that need to be rotated and manipulated to be read.
  3. Print Quality:And last but not least, physical books, as of now, are better for print quality and color reproduction and so are perfect for showing artwork.
  4. Special editions: Physical books also have an essence and unique presence, and so are great for special editions, leather covers, unique designs, etc.
  5. Conservation: Physical books also excel at conservation and are a great format for preservation of work.

What physical books are not great at is accessibility and readability for people with reading difficulties or in adverse conditions. We should welcome the differences between print and digital and focus our efforts on the strengths that make physical books unique, instead of battling with the ebook industry.

I see a great future ahead for printed books, it just doesn’t look anything like what we have now, and that change scares many.