The Coffee Break Screenwriter Breaks The Rules by Pilar Alessandra (book review).

January 2, 2018 | By | Reply More

If you read Pilar Alessandra’s previous book, ‘The Coffee Break Screenwriter’ then you will want its sequel, ‘The Coffee Break Screenwriter Breaks The Rules’. What she says in the introduction is that all the supposed scriptwriting rules aren’t that at all, just guidance as to what to be careful of. Interestingly, throughout the book, she gives film examples where they are broken. I suspect the same thing happens in prose, too. The rules aren’t in stone, they just need good storytelling to beat them. I mean, I tend to avoid having more than one character with unusual vocal quirks because it can be difficult to keep it up, let alone the reader, but happily spun with two characters in a ‘Psi-Kicks’ story last year. So, yeah, I’m all for breaking any ‘rules’ providing it doesn’t confuse the reader too much.

Alessandra also points out why these ‘rules’ were put there in the first place. A lot of it is for the rhythm and expectation to the film viewer. If you look at plot patterns and the feelgood factor, the studios rather have their audience go away being happy than sad. If they want people to go away disturbed or frightened then they have Science Fiction and horror to fill those slots.

Rather interestingly Alessandra points out about the constraints of why having a likable character for the viewer to support but also says it can be done with a flawed character. Considering I’ve criticised a few films recently for not having any sympathetic characters in them, I hope these scriptwriters and directors take note for the future. It isn’t likability that’s needed just a little sympathy with the character’s predicament.

Picking out points I like is tough. I do agree that incidental characters, like waiters and drivers, don’t need names if they are only there for an instant. Understanding the entire plot structure before reformatting its order is just a matter of organisation where you don’t have to think in a linear way. I think we’re all getting a little lazy in writing in a linear time-scale these days. All plot organisation should be built around moving towards the objective should never be forgotten but doesn’t necessarily need a three-act play.

Something I will add to her thoughts on ‘write what you know’ is if you don’t know it, then research it. The number of medical and science mistakes I see in films wouldn’t have happened had they checked on them properly. One thing definitely shared is don’t write a screenplay or novel with the intention of having sequels as you need to sell the initial one first but leave something a sequel could be hung off.

For such a small book, this is packed with knowledge that you will go back to time and again to remind yourself that you don’t have to be tied into any particular ‘writing rule’ as long as you remember to be a brilliant writer. It can also be treated as a book to show you what other people think are the rules.

GF Willmetts

December 2017

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 83 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $12.95 (US), £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-282-5)

check out website: www.mwp.com


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Category: Culture, Movie books

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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