“Essentials of Screenwriting” by Richard Walter - who is a professor and screenwriting chairman on UCLA – is a book that entertained me. If you read a book about how to tell a story the least one could expect is to find the book fascinating and irresistible. Richard Walter succeeded admirably to keep my interest on top all the way through 376 pages.
The book is not only speckled with great knowledge and pieces of advice, but also filled with amusing stories from the authors’ own life, rich of experience and insight.
I would say that this book mostly turns to those new to screenwriting, but has been writing for a little while, and maybe finished their first script. Although I’ve been writing for a long time I found interesting comments and felt enlighten afterwards.
Richard Walter has split the content in four parts: Art, Craft, Business and The Whole Picture (which is basically a case study).
The first part, Art, is about the actual script: how to build a story, theme, structure, to make it personal, writing dialog and formatting.
One thing that especially caught my attention was Richard Walter’s emphasis to put faith in the actor’s ability to deliver a line without the writer of the script underlining words and end sentences with “. . .”. The dialog may appear pretty stiff on the paper without, but just as much as I don’t underline and use (angry)-directions, I can live without the dots as well.
The author also points out the importance to use the environment where the character is; to not place them in a diner just to give them something to do. A very important aspect I think, which I sadly have neglected too often so far.
The second part, Craft, works with you as a writer, how to find a writing habit and to help you to handle criticisms, for example.
To learn to put your ego on the side, to learn when to let go of a script and to find methods to bring out those extraordinary ideas are all important aspects of writing.
Then comes the third part, Business. Although most people say it is almost impossible to get a script sold, Richard Walter’s advice and experience gave me hope when he explained the mechanisms behind things.
The contents of the book is solid, valuable and also fun to read.
There are some areas however which is less explored than one could expect and the subject of characters is one of those. This book is focused on story rather than how to form good characters and even less the use of heroes and villains.
Another neglected area is how to break into the business other ways than sending query letters. There are ways to form a network of people and finally find someone recommending you, and perhaps a little more about the modern social networks on the Internet and its possibilities should have been included.
On the other hand, the title is “Essentials of Screenwriting”, and maybe these two areas are not considered essential by the author.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in screenwriting. Especially to those who want to break into Hollywood.
First version of this entry published Sept 24st 2010