Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Your Screenplay Sucks!

First published 11/14/08 on the Fear of Writing Blog

FORTUNATELY, THIS IS NOT something someone said to me. This is the spiffy title of a funny and brilliant book by William M. Akers, and I heartily recommend it to almost anyone writing fiction.

The full title is your screenplay sucks! 100 ways to make it great. Here are some of Akers' 100 ways, from the table of contents:

-- You have not written something you care about!
-- You haven't worked your dialogue hard enough!
-- You don't have enough tension!
-- You have not shouted at each scene, "How can I jack up the conflict?!"
-- You haven't made "place" a character in your story!

Notice a pattern here? These are issues that many fiction writers face. Aspiring screenwriter or not, you're also bound to enjoy Akers' wisecracking and insightful supporting examples based on popular movies.

I've read other screenwriting books where the author bases his arguments around examples from movies and I've always learned something useful (usually enjoying the examples enough to put some of the movies in my Netflix queue), but Akers makes it come to life like Frankenstein busting out of his table straps. His examples are so vivid, funny, educational and entertaining, it makes me want to SCREAM (but only from an excess of creative inspiration . . . and that unparalleled feeling of reading a book so good you could almost eat the pages).

If you're still hesitating to buy this book, let me put the screws in a little deeper. From his list of 100 sins to commit against your own screenplay, there are some things I would never have dreamed of doing (so, therefore, “I didn't need the advice”); for instance,

-- Your story is about miserable people who are miserable the whole time and end miserably! Or worse!!
-- You want to be famous more than you want to write!
-- You call specific songs!*

*(This one refers to those newbie screenwriters who specify which songs they want for particular scenes; a definite no-no.)

I could have gone through the table of contents and skipped the chapters containing the advice I don't need. I love anything that saves me time! But, in this case, that would be dumb. I'm learning something from almost every chapter of this book, even when I fully expect not to.

And for the chapters about the really assinine things I would never do, I may not learn anything new but it sure is "fun on a bun" (as Londa is fond of saying in The Philosopher's Apprentice).

In section 11, “We have no rooting interest in your hero!” (a problem I'm 95% certain I don't have with mine), Akers says:

“Your hero does not have to be sympathetic. He doesn't have to be nice. Just because development people or writing teachers say your main character has to be likable, doesn't mean you have to listen.”

My hero is a deeply nice person—with a hankering for innocence and purity—and that's his flaw. The movie would not work without it.

Despite that being true for my current story, previous to reading this book I already knew the main character of any story could be a Grinch—and I'm not afraid to do that in my own writing (see "The God of Mystery" from Fear of Writing). But reading section 11 (along with #13 “Your Bad Guy isn't great!”—though I believe mine's pretty juicy) gave me an electrifying new idea for a screenplay; a story idea I may never have arrived at by skipping chapters in the hasty belief the advice would not be relevant to me.

There’s another reason why non-screenwriters might find this book not only entertaining but educational. On every page, with every sentence, Akers shows us how to write. If I was only allowed to review this book with one meager paragraph, I would say,

"This book is my precioussss. It burnses me to put it down. Must keep reading! Never, ever get between me and my copy of your screenplay sucksss! or things could get nasssty. (Hint: Ever seen me sssqueeze a fish?)"

It doesn't make sense, really. Akers spends the whole book telling me what I'm doing wrong and why I'm a schmuck. He insults my intelligence with his list of 100 and drops the guillotine on my hopes of ever getting a screenplay deal. And I love it! Every page is like a gigantic bowl of chocolate ice cream. Now that's good writing.

Just reading this book and absorbing his inimitable style, even if you don't (to your detriment) take any of the advice, can teach you good writing.

So, dear blog readers . . . have you bought your copy yet? If you're not already driving to your local bookstore to snatch it up, here's the link again so you can buy it online through Akers' Website (don't forget to look at all the funny pictures and read the wonderful chapters that didn't make it into the book):

your screenplay sucks! Buy now! Get it here! What are you waiting for? . . . editors or agents to call you on your cell phone?!

P.S. This is the kind of book that poses a painful conflict if you’re forced to pick a favorite line, but so far one of my winners is “Hans Gruber, marriage counselor.”

P.P.S. You may already guess what that refers to, but if not you need to buy this book—not only to laugh and marvel at this clever punch line but to find out why this concept might be important to your own writing.


RELATED POST: Your Screenplay Sucks! Part II

(being news of the breakthrough that happened for me after reading less than 40 pages)



Sunflower Ranch said...

Thanks for your post! I'm also writing in the boonies and wow, it's a whole new world! I don't know how brave it is, but it's here. :)

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