Why Does The Screenwriter Cross The Road? by Joe Gilford (book review).

April 29, 2015 | By | Reply More

The answer to author Joe Gilford’s title question of ‘Why Does The Screenwriter Cross The Road?’ comes in the third chapter because he wants to give a star actor a juicy role for them to get their teeth into. If you can do that for the entire cast then you’ll probably find it easier to sell that script you’ve been trying to sell. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that as the last chapter reveals but does guides you how to get started but first you have to have a descent script and how not to make first time mistakes.


As a prose writer, I’m always after different things to learn from for my own craft and although I’m never likely to write a script yet, there is a lot to be learnt here for any medium. Gilford has a likable writing manner as he coaches technique in how to build a script and work at it until it’s the kind of material that is bought in Hollywood. This should hardly be surprising as he teaches a course on the subject. Whether the script would sell in other countries, you’ll have to decide for yourself but he points out the weak areas that need to be strengthened.

One interesting thing that he says about never using your worse ideas parallels that quote of AE Van Vogt that I’ve said from time to time, always use your best ideas because you’ll always get more best ideas. I know in the Hollywood system there is always the fear that an idea will be stolen but as a script it is under copyright that can be covered by the Writers Guild Of America and your legal property. Presumably, having a copy time-dated stored in a bank or with a lawyer’s office would work in any part of the world.

Gilford uses a lot of film examples of what made them successes and the emphasis on having a script that makes sense is strongly emphasised. Having characters that develop with every problem they have to solve is also something that attracts the viewers. The internal consistency of a plot is relevant to the reality created and Gilford uses ‘Star Wars’ as the example but then, as SF readers and writers, we already know that and probably how we spot the clinkers so easily and that even on a low budget, some films can still be good. I did wonder why he didn’t use examples of not what to do because you can learn from failure as much as success but maybe that’s just me. Mind you, the number of examples used crosses all the genres and as Gilford points out, see as many films as you can and understand why they work.

The parallels still exist in ensuring you research the subject you’re going to write about. Although Gilford doesn’t call it the ‘believability factor’, it adds to the confidence of what you’re writing. It has to work or how else did Ian Fleming get away with so many inaccuracies in his James Bond books? These days, people know or can find out a lot from the Net so writers can’t get away with anything like that anymore. Saying that, I do have to wonder why so many American films and TV series get medical conditions, including my own type one diabetes, wrong rather do it right which is practically obligationary in the UK. Gilford does sum it up in saying that the story has to make sense which means being self-consistent.

An important read for those of you writing trilogies and don’t have a good middle book is chapter nine. Although in movie terms, it’s usually act two where the story lags through lack of ideas. Gilford points out that writers put something there, hoping to improve it later but then forget to do so. His emphasis on having solid consequences to always build on should keep you on track and I would add always check your story map or plot and if you see it only as a starting point or to get the misfires out of your head and find something better for those scenes.

When it comes to actual dialogue, Gilford reminds that it has to be written for some purpose in the story and not just to explain the plot. Looking at his examples, scriptwriting is far more plot orientated first and dialogue attached. Understanding the beats of the story and how time is compressed on the screen is fundamental to moving the story along. I suspect any prose writer who wants to try scriptwriting can furnish a complete plot before writing a story would find making the transition a lot easier than going at it ad hoc.

For those of you having to work out how to allocate writing time in your life, Gilford’s advice in chapter 9 should help a lot. I’ve always maintained that it’s the amount of quality time you spend actually writing is important with the rest of the time putting some thought into what you are actually going to write and plan out. Even if you think the planning is ignored, see it as a means to remove the misfires from your thinking process.

I learnt a lot from this book purely as a prose writer. If you’re going to write a script then you’re going to learn even more. I doubt if it will make every potential scriptwriter sell a film because there is still a lot of talent, original ideas, ability to write well and luck, involved but at least you should be able to reduce the stillborns that never get completed. Writing in any medium is for survivors and this book might well prove to be your life-raft.

GF Willmetts

April 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 214 page enlarged paperback. Price: $18.60 (US), £16.43 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-223-8)

check out website: www.mwp.com and www.joegilford.com

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Category: Books, Culture

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About UncleGeoff

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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