Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Screenwriting Books

I'm back in the fight to outline this screenplay. Last night, my slightly mushy brain came up with a pretty decent idea to fix the whole thing, and it continued to work on it overnight. By this morning it seemed like the new approach was pretty workable and I started writing it down. I'd like to say a couple of words about how I'm approaching that.

I previously mentioned Blake Snyder and Alex Epstein as influences on structuring my work. It's pretty hard to really name a favorite between their two books. The couple of books I'd read before them, Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge and Screenplay by Syd Field, were useful overviews, but were vague on specific techniques. Yes, they discussed the three acts. Michael even offered a way to format an outline, but his approach seemed both heavily burdened with detail about what to track for each scene and lacking in practical advice on how to figure out what scenes to include.

Then I read Alex Epstein's Crafty Screenwriting. This was helpful. He started with the basics on developing a hook and then gave solid, practical advice about plot, characters, dialogue and the rest. I used his guidance while working on my second screenplay. But I guess the part of my brain that's good at organizing some things just didn't quite absorb enough about the process to make me successful at organizing the screenplay. It still ran out of gas about halfway through. I needed more.

Blake Snyder's Save The Cat! was the book that put it all together for me. It really might be The Last Book on Screenwriting [I'll] Ever Need (but I doubt it, because I like books). From his insightful breakdown of the beats of a movie, to his useful taxonomy of story genres, to his step by step advice on breaking down a story using 'the board', this book is filled with the tools I think I need to finally put together a screenplay that works. All the other books have their place, but Save The Cat! is the one I go to first to figure out what I need to put into a script.

So, I'm back to it. My logline is revised to incorporate the new approach. I have two fresh pages of notes for how to outline about 2/3 of the story, sort of a synopsis. I plan to get the rest of the synopsis/notes written down tomorrow morning and perhaps even start arranging scenes on 'the board'. It's just possible that I'll get that done and be able to write out the detailed outline by Sunday night. We'll see. I am recharged to get back to work and might be a bit optimistic.

I still don't want to say to much in this forum about what I'm working on. What I will say is that it's supposed to be a comedy (if I can write funny) and it's supposed to be family friendly (I think I can do that). And if you read STC!, you'll find that Blake would put it in the genre of Out of the Bottle. So that, or OOTB, is how I'll refer to the project from now on. It's not really I Dream of Jeannie. More like The Brass Bottle meets Home of the Brave (though I'm still trying to find a better second feature).

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