30 June, 2009

Checking what they've written

The venerable Stephen Gallagher says on his blog: "The downside is that there are a lot of books, courses and how-to's out there that ain't worth a bucket of warm spit." Which is very difficult to argue with but then he says "when somebody's telling you stuff about writing, check out what they've written. " Which is very easy to argue with as I've learnt loads from critics for a start.

Mr Gallagher goes on to plug William Akers course/book promotion on Thursday. If, before buying the book or taking a ticket, I decided to check what Akers had written, here on IMDB, I wouldn't give him the time of day.

However going on to his website, (check out the free handout) I find that he's been a script reader for 20 years. Writing Ernest Rides Again (or Citizen Kane for that matter) is no guarantee that a screenwriter is going to tell us better stuff about writing. Reading and analysing scripts for 20 years isn't necessarily a guarantee either but it's much more likely. Now he gets the time of day.

Writing and teaching writing are two different skillsets. Of course some can do both well but let's reserve judgement for those who can't do either well.

Sir Danny did a Twitter survey yesterday on the best screenwriting books asking for the one book writers would choose. The results are here. Only William Goldman and Russell T Davies, are famous as writers. (Although someone, being contrary, lists a website, Wordplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.)

Few, if any, of the books were named twice, which proves something, I'm not sure what. Perhaps not that we should buy every book and do every course until we find a method that suits us. I've known writers who have done that but that's the fear talking.


Steve the Creep said...

Another thing to point out is you might buy Robert Towne's book on screenwriting, but when you finish your script, Robert Towne isn't the guy who's going to read it.

Getting advice from a guy who's been a reader will be more likely to aid you in getting your spec past the front gate. If he's been doing it for 20 years, he must be pretty good at it.

English Dave said...

The truth of the matter is that you can teach good format. You can teach someone to write what looks like a script and smells like a script and has turning points and conflict in all the 'right' places.

What you can't teach is talent, and if you don't have that it doesn't matter how many gurus or books you shell out for.

Blending story, plot and character together to make something with universal appeal takes a certain instinct; or 'heart' if you like.

Some people are great mathematicians but can't read a bus timetable. Some people can sing and some people can't no matter how much they spend on lessons.

Write what moves YOU. Don't worry about the reader. There's a whole load of crap on the internet ranging from 'three brads or two?' to 'never use voice over'

It's all pretty much bollocks. Write something good. Something you're proud of. Something with your individual voice.That's the first step and the one that is most likely to get you noticed. Then be prepared to compromise. Because that's when the real work starts.

Robin Kelly said...

Steve, I agree, once you know the basics the rest has to come from us and our original voice.

I should have added other industry people to the list as well as critics. While script-editors, producers and directors may talk rubbish at times, they may also have vauable insights into our script. Saying to them: "well, what have you written?", doesn't seem sensible.

ED, I agree. Though while you can't teach talent, I think we can all develop our talent enough to get some work, if not develop enough to become the next Paul Abbott.

If the people doing all the courses and books looking for a shortcut to success just did it the hard way and read loads of scripts and wrote loads of scripts then they would maybe develop that instinct.