Rewrite by Paul Chitlik (book review).

One of the more enjoyable aspects of being a review editor is looking for books that can offer a different but useful perspective that you would otherwise miss. Case in point is ‘Rewrite’ by scriptwriter Paul Chitlik, who includes a lot of SF in his CV. Although the book is primarily aimed at how to polish a screenplay, the same techniques can also be applied to standard storywriting and he does spend a chapter on such comparisons. As I was reading this book, I was systematically ticking off things that I’ve told writers in the past as to what is important and glad to see that they apply to both mediums.


Chitlik points out from the start that films depend more strongly on characters than the events that they are caught up in. It has little to do with whether you find the characters likeable but find them interesting, which explains the appeal of both heroes and villains.

Whether screenplay or prose, understanding what you need to look for and see if you’re hitting the right points when polishing a draft is always a problem. You have to decide what should be kept in, which scenes are important and especially, not to bore the viewer or reader. Getting the beats right as Chitlik points out and you have to be brutal with removing redundant scenes. In prose, I would also add if there is an important element in a scene, see if it can be moved to a different scene than be totally lost.

Script examples are taken from across all the genres and even SF, through ‘Star Wars’, isn’t ignored. I would have liked to have seen examples of where it doesn’t work purely as a comparison. If you can’t understand why a film fails than how can you appreciate the successful movie any better? Mind you, I suspect the original scriptwriters wouldn’t want to be seen in that light and unlikely to give permission.

Action over talk is given ample space. In fiction, I call it ‘Do, not say’ because it re-enforces the information to the reader. It’s as though there is a switch-off point in the reader when there’s too much exposition. The same with creating interesting characters. You need some characteristic or three to make the character instantly recognisable. With film, it depends largely on what the actor brings to the role and the image the viewer associates with them as much as emotional input.

In the appendixes, Chitlik shows four examples of his own rewriting of a script. Although I found the changes were mostly subtle seeing the final draft with corrections to how the actors changed minor words clearly shows work in progress throughout.

‘Re-Write’ is an instructional read for all of you with a disposition for writing, whether it is for script or prose, especially if you think the first draft is good enough. Understanding what to look for and being aware of where you make mistakes and correct them can only make you a better writer. The fact that this book has also sold well enough to reach a second edition speaks for itself. I should also point out that Michael Wiese Productions has an enormous catalogue of books of this nature and I’m going to be sampling several more over the next few months. That alone should indicate they deserve a look.

GF Willmetts

October 2013

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 209 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $17.21 (US), £14.71 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-157-6)

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