a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Un-funking Myself, and a Book Review

So the process of prying myself out of my funk has begun in earnest, with two fairly major things so far this week:

1) I was invited to join a screenwriter's group, the first time I have ever tried this, but it's a process I am already enjoying.

The group meets once a week in a very small theater, where actors do cold reads of a 25-page chunk of whatever the writer is currently working on; the other writers then tear it apart. They do four chunks for four different writers each week, and the process looks very effective; the actors are good (and hearing your words read out loud definitely seems helpful), while the critiquing writers seem bright and spot-on.

I'm scheduled to wheel out my first 25 pages in January, so the benefit of this is that it is giving me one more reason to start something new, so --

2) I've begun work on something new. I was organizing my ideas file last week, sifting for lost gems, when I came upon a premise that I've played with in different ways in the past, but which I never came close to cracking enough to inspire me to attack it in earnest.

Over the weekend, I started brainstorming ways to tackle it. I changed the main character, found that that was working, and jotted down a bunch of ideas.

Then, because reading work is slow (damn holiday season), I got a chance to really put some thought into it the last few days. In addition, yesterday I did something that I'd always wanted to do writing-wise, and which turned out to be the perfect thing --

I read a screenwriting book, with the idea that I could filter the nascent ideas I had through whatever process it was recommending, and give an immediate jumpstart to the whole script.

And it turned out to be the perfect book. "Writing A Great Movie: Key Tools For Successful Screenwriting" by Jeff Kitchen. Kitchen is a respected writing teacher and script doctor, with a real grounding in dramatic structure, and the book is geared toward helping you do a lot of the work before you sit down to write, so you don't wind up doing 20 drafts of the same script, like I always do.

I didn't actually buy this book. It was sent to me in hopes that I would review it on my blog. It's the first time anyone has ever done this, and it turned out to be kismet, because reading through it automatically helped me flesh out certain parts of my idea, and really made me wish that I'd read this book before writing my supernatural thriller.

Anyhow, Kitchen gives a detailed immersion in drama and narrative structure and dramatic situations and character development and theme and other devices that prod the writer into not being such a lazy-ass and to actually do the work to make their script more dramatic. Kitchen illustrates his points by showing how they work on six films (The Godfather, What Women Want, Minority Report, Training Day, Tootsie and Blade Runner -- a pretty good genre swath) and then he uses the devices to create a plot of his own, just to illustrate how it is done.

There's no format instructions in this book; it's screenwriting for people who already know the basics, and are ready to do the work to make their script stronger structurally before diving into the first pass. I admit that I skipped over some of the denser sections, but I'll probably go back, and it's nice reading something from someone who really knows their stuff.

Worth a look.

Okay, I'm going back to brainstorming now.


At 3:48 PM, Blogger Brett said...

This is why I always try to have something else already going when any project starts to get near the end of its major creative phase-- I always like to have something to keep me engaged and moving forwards rather than fall prey to the "idle hands" trap of self-loathing and self-abuse.

Book sounds cool. So many of the books and "systems" people try to push seem like they are written by and for people who have basically zero understanding of storytelling. I'lll probably try to scare up a copy somehwere.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

"while the critiquing writers seem bright and spot-on."

Is that because I was MIA?

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Steve Barr said...

Your new writing group sounds familiar? Does it happen to be just down the block from a certain Italian restaurant where a certain gold-digging ex-hooker got shot by a certain has-been TV star?

If so, pls say Hi for me to Rixey, James, Dallas, and all the old crew.

(Chesher Cat, did you tell me that you belong to that group? I can't remember.)

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

Don't think I did, Steve. But I do.

But I'm not sure if it's the one you're thinking of...since I do not recognize two of the three names on your list. One of the people you mentioned also runs something on Wednesdays. This one's on Mondays.

Were you a former member?

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Unk said...

Interesting. He sent it to me as well. LOL.


At 11:45 PM, Blogger Warren said...

Steve Barr, I didn't realize you used to be a member of the group, though what Chesher said holds true. Maybe you're thinking of the Wednesday workshop, as I don't know James or Dallas.

Wait, she was a gold-digging ex-hooker?! I didn't know that. This is a crazy town.

Anyway, Scott, we're thrilled to have you in the group! I hope it helps you work your way out of that funk!


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