Screenwriting Books – 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader & How Not to Write a Screenplay

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Amazon UK (yet again, other booksellers are available)

ISBN-10: 0684856409     ISBN-13: 978-0684856407

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Amazon UK (yeah, you know the rest)

ISBN-10: 1580650155     ISBN-13: 978-1580650151


Back to books…

I decided to look at these two together as they are kind of cut from the same cloth. Neither book is a conventional account of screenwriting from start to finish in the way that, perhaps McKee or Field are, and they are certainly lighter in tone and easier to read.

The books are both a collection of snippets of information, like a screenwriter’s FAQ list of hints and tips on how to write a screenplay and market your stories.

Jennifer Lerch’s 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader is exactly that, a run through of 500 nuggets of advice for writers who want to make sure their screenplay gets read, and gets past the Hollywood gatekeepers. Hollywood is the key word here and the book is largely written to reflect on screenplays with Hollywood as a target audience; commercial, high-concept, 3-ACT stories. To this end, the main section of the book (Book 2) runs from “Way” number 200 to “Way” number 477 and is split into 3 Acts that mirrors the issues you need to consider in each of those 3 Acts. Book 1 deals with developing characters, concepts and themes and is the second largest section from 1 to 200.

This is by no means a bad thing, just important to highlight that it might not be the right book for you if you are more interested in low-budget, independent film-making, or markets that are very different from Hollywood. As a general primer, though, it works well and I enjoyed the read. It is accessible and does not get bogged down with in-depth discussions of screenwriting paradigms or rules, but just fires out nugget after nugget of writing advice. You just take what you want from it.

In the introduction to “How Not to Write a Screenplay,” Denny Martin Flinn states that this book will not make you a great screenwriter, but he hopes that it will help you to NOT be a bad screenwriter. The book explores 101 common mistakes that screenwriters make and, while it is not numbered in the same way as “500 Ways…” it is split into many sections offering advice on dozens of aspects of screenwriting such as sluglines, settings, characters and dialogue.

Actually, the book could work as a companion to The Screenwriter’s Bible in that the biggest section, PART 1, deals with Form and Formatting; the real nuts and bolts of screenwriting that you need to know about. It takes a lot of similar rules discussed by Trottier in his bible and gives examples of mistakes that are commonly made and how to avoid making them. If you want a concise book that explores the use of parentheticals, montages or the much discussed “we-see,” then you are in the right place. You won’t get an in-depth discussion about any of this, but you will get helpful insight into the bare bones of screenwriting form.

Personally, I think I preferred Trottier’s book but that may be because I know it better than this book and it is my go to reference when I have a query about form. There isn’t much new in Flinn’s book if you are familiar with the Bible or have been writing for a while, but it is still a potentially useful addition to your screenwriting reference library!

They are both books that you can dip in and out of and don’t need to sit down and spend hours pouring over technicalities. I bit of light relief after some of the loftier tomes that are available to screenwriters.

If you have read them, or decide to, let me know what you think below.

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Posted on March 2, 2016, in Learning, Reading, Structure, theme, Writing, Writing Rules and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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