Introduction

When I told one of my writer/producer friends that I was going to write this book, I got an enthusiastic response. He hoped that I would be able to address all of the big issues: how to write, when to write, why to write, is there a way to write? How do I write? What does a writer really do?

While I don't presume to have the answers to all those questions, it is clear to me what writers do, and why they do it. Writers imagine a whole universe, where none existed before. The universe can be a house or a galaxy, but there is something in this universe, some idea, some story, that you just can't get out of your mind. That, to me, is the only real reason to write. Of course people write because they think something might make a good movie; or because they think they might attain fame and fortune by selling a milliondollar screenplay. Even if you eventually do make a fortune as a screenwriter, if this is your only reason to write, your road to success will be fraught with much frustration and heartache, as you keep pounding on that closed Hollywood door. In fact, even if you're

writing because you're obsessed/in love with/compelled by an idea, your way will still be fraught with frustration and heartache - but at least you'll love what you do. Writing, like love, like life, may be frustrating at times, but it can also be a wildly exhilarating experience, unlike any other, and it's not surprising that many people try their hand at it, in some form or other.

Over the past several years I've received myriad inquiries from people all over the world who have stories to tell, and who felt that their stories were suitable to the big screen. All of them had one basic question - I've never written a screenplay, so what do I do now?

For those willing to take the plunge into writing a full-length screenplay, I have come up with a guided set of exercises to help you do just that, doing what writers do everywhere -face the blank page, and start writing. There are many inspirational books out there which focus on the art of story telling for the screen, but which leave you high and dry as to the process. Here, I will take you on a step by step course, on the craft of screenwriting. Okay, this is more about style than substance - all of you psychologists out there, make of this what you will.

While this book was written primarily for the new writer, other writers, with screenplays under their belts but still without an option or sale, will learn professional tips and insider secrets to help you rethink your approach to screenwriting, and make your scripts sparkle and glow, and look like they've been written by a pro.

For a beginning screenwriter trying to "break in," just as for any good safecracker, you must first learn to use the tools of the trade. And the tools you use must be sharp, you've got to have a good ear for the tumblers clicking into place, and you've got to possess some measure of skill, and, like the best criminal minds, intelligence. If all else fails, you've got to know how and when to use explosives. Only then will you blow a hole in that seemingly impenetrable wall safeguarding the Hollywood dream.

Metaphors aside, this book is intended as a practical guide to writing a professional script, from start to finish - a script that, instead of screaming "amateur," looks and smells like it was written by a genuine writer. A writer with an idea, a cause, a character, a situation -in short, a PREMISE - that is so disturbing, ridiculous, compelling, hilarious, tantalizing, frightening, that the reader cannot help but read on, to see how the HERO deals with this wildly original and UNEXPECTED CIRCUMSTANCE, and whether or not he or she succeeds in OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES in his or her path.

The words in bold, capital letters are words you will run into time and time again, in studying screenwriting. Without being too simplistic, suffice to say that without a PREMISE and a HERO you don't have a screenplay. Now this might seem obvious, but, unfortunately, most new writers don't have a clue as to what a movie premise is; and oftentimes character and character development take a back seat to the plot. This would be difficult enough, but, in addition, many new writers also don't seem to have any idea of what constitutes a beginning, a middle and an end, plot points, reversals, etc. And don't get me started on the subject of dialogue.

Life should be a very beautiful and elegant matter, but is often thrown out of balance by events either of our own making, due to a character flaw, or seemingly or actually out of our control. And so it is with the movies which touch us most deeply, where, as in real life, someone is trying to overcome their "flaw" (or apparent inability to deal with a situation) in order to restore balance to an (INCREASINGLY) UNTENABLE SITUATION, through the peculiarly human act of CONSCIOUS PROBLEMSOLVING.

Screenwriting, like life, requires that same level of problem solving. What is problem solving? Problem-solving is about facing conflict head on, when a situation presents itself in such a way as to create imbalance and discomfort (conflict), until you figure out what to do about it, and then do it, against all odds.

So the essence of all screenwriting is problem solving the hero's way out of conflict and restoring balance, whether psychological, relational, societal, or cosmic. The results of a film hero's actions can be futile, they can be heroic, they can be tragic, or ridiculous, but whatever they are, they take him and us on our own journey into the heart of conflict, and out the other side. This, to me, is the essence of screenwriting.

The same goes for you as an intrepid screenwriter, getting yourself out of this mess you got yourself into when you had that great idea to write a screenplay. Your task mirrors your hero's task - pretty elegant, huh?

So what is a screenplay, exactly? Simply put, a screenplay is the written version of the film, or a blueprint for the film, including the story line, as told through action and dialogue, descriptions of the characters, and instructions regarding locations and lighting. Well, I guess you could say that a Mercedes S600 Coupe with a V-12 engine is a set of four wheels, painted steel, chrome and leather. But if you view either your screenplay or said car as such a simple and straightforward affair, then no one is going to get too excited about it (or dish out six figures for it either). So let's go a little further in defining what a screenplay, and your story, should do, namely:

Present your hero with a situation (inciting incident) which triggers a dramatic crisis and a decision to act (Act One); his actions, while seemingly solving the problem, lead to new conflicts which intensify the problem (hopefully not arbitrarily), and the hero's dilemma (Act Two); until the hero, at great odds, figures out how to resolve the problem (Act Three).

While this is an admittedly simplistic definition, it does tell you what the overall shape of the Hollywood screenplay should look like. In this formulation, the plot is created by your character's actions, building dramatic tension and a compelling story line, based on your character and his or her authentic needs and how he or she fills (or doesn't fill) those needs. We will examine the essential components of a screenplay in the pages that follow, including a practical set of exercises and writer's tools to help you:

• clarify your premise;

• start writing a screenplay, without "opening a vein;"

• define and add depth to your characters, and sharpen their dialogue;

• format the screenplay professionally;

• pitch your story simply and effectively, whether in person or via query.

Where appropriate, there will be excerpts from my own written material, so as not to infringe on any other writer's copyright. The material will include query letters that got some of Hollywood's top players calling, asking to read my material; and treatments and screenplays written for hire, optioned or sold. More importantly, there will also be some workbook-like exercises, to get you started on transforming your own idea into a screenplay.

Of course you could learn much of this in a good screenwriting class, if you are fortunate enough to have classes available in your area. Not all classes are created equal, however; I've had clients who teach screenwriting, and who didn't have a clue about what constitutes a premise, a narrative throughline, story logic, or character development. If a class is not an option for you at this time, in any case, what this guide is going to tell you is what you absolutely need to know about the craft of writing for the big screen, simply, clearly, and without surrounding it with a lot of theory about the art of story telling. I leave that for another time.

This book is going to teach you what you need to know to get started; and, if you have written numerous screenplays that haven't sold, you may get some tips that will help you sharpen your screenwriting skills.

But telling you what you need to know doesn't guarantee a sale - you must have a movie idea to begin with; and you have to execute that idea with skill, and intelligence. Trust me, even the lamest movies started with a writer who had an idea s/he was excited about, however perverted that idea became during the filmmaking process. So I repeat, following the guidelines set out below will not guarantee a sale. My sincere apologies. Also note that the focus here is on the big screen, and not on episodic television, which has its own rules and a completely different format.

One request, please: while I welcome emails with questions regarding the material in this book, please don't send me emails correcting my grammar. I use far too many dashes, and write as I speak, that is, in the vernacular (yes, I use words like vernacular). When I'm up for the Booker Prize, maybe I'll clean up my grammatical act. Meanwhile, allow me my sentences that begin with and, but, because and maybe, and end with, well...You get the idea. So let's begin.

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