July 28th, 2008

Recommended Reading: Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434

Now that Tami has you thinking like an actor, let's take a step back and talk like directors.  Because as I have said too many times before, we are the creators of our stories, our characters.  Although we certainly hear our characters, we are the ones who place them in tight spots.  We create story.

I first found Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 in a bibliography.  I had just attended Robert McKee's lectures on Story.  Although I had no intention of writing a screenplay, I understood what a director's mind could add to my point of view and story telling abilities. A few years later, when I was writing my thesis, I found the citation and bought the book.  I am so happy I did.  Since then, I've recommended this book to all kinds of writers.

Because let's face it: this is about telling captivating, interesting stories.  For entertainment.  We write to be read.  The form doesn't really matter all that much.

I love this book for many reasons:

It is easy to read.  Unlike a lot of craft books, Lew Hunter's 434 reads like a great lecture.  He is often laugh-out-loud funny.  And smart.

On Where to Write:
When I'm developing a story, I like to use a pad and pencil so that process can occur in any invigorating place.
When I'm into script, I can write anywhere I happen to be.  I used to need every grain of sand in place on the Mojave Desert before I could get down to writing.  I then instructed my children, "When Daddy's writing, no one is to bother him unless they are on fire and can't beat out the flames with one hand."

The structure.  He takes us through the steps of writing a screenplay.  Ideas, the 2 minute movie (an exercise everyone should try), building characters, outlines, acts, and revision.  

And there is white space.

Great advice: new and old.
The book is full of great one liners and concepts.  From "kill your darlings" to fears and motivation, from petting the dog to talking heads, Hunter gives us everything we need.  He discusses conflict and the need for it, act twos (aka: the muddy middle) and surprising the viewer.  He compares drama to melodrama, believable unbelievability, open and closed stories.  he warns the writer not to be TOO brilliant. 

A snippet:

When you're trapped in the deepest story corner, rejoice.  THAT is when wonderful things can happen.  When you're in a corner, always look to your characters to lead you out.  They will show the way.

Another snippet:

I want you to spread your story and your characters before you as if you were to lift your intestines from your stomach and arrange them on a table.  Your guts, not anyone else's.  Get inside of yourself.  Pull things out.  DON'T BE SAFE. 

Please read Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434.  It's a great book with a lot to say, told in an engaging style.