Most writers hate criticism. We're a sensitive lot, who pour our hearts, souls, and a fortune in Starbucks' caramel macchiatos into our "babies." We know that critiques are necessary, but there are many of us who will stick our manuscripts into the bottom of a drawer rather than face harsh criticism; to date, I almost never re-read my term papers in college!
But if there is one place where the writer must take full responsibility for every aspect of their work, it is in the world of screenplays. True, editors and publishers get thousands and thousands of submissions, and many are discarded, but they generally have the decency to send rejection letters. And if a manuscript shows promise, the author will have an editor to make suggestions and critiques. But if the Hollywood script reader rejects a screenplay, it will wind up in Hollywood limbo - never to be heard from again. Your Screenplay Sucks! was written with that knowledge in mind, by a seasoned writer who has seen the same fatal mistakes made over and over again.
The book is written with a delightfully sarcastic tone. My favorite of which is reason #78, "You didn't run your spell-check, you moron!" immediately followed by #79, "You trust your spell-check! Ah haa ha haaa ha ha!" I love it.
The one aspect of the book that kept throwing me as far as comprehension was that every reason is in the form of a statement punctuated by an exclamation mark. The subtitle of the book is "100 ways to make it great," yet every statement is instead an indictment of every stupid thing that one can do. Every time I came across a statement, I had to do a double take and realize it was a negative thing as opposed to a positive one. Most "x-number of ways to accomplish this or that" books have each statement in the form of an affirmation, so this is a little unusual, and might cause some confusion for the reader.
There really are 100 points to take to heart in this book. That did seem like a bit much at first, especially since it's a pretty thick book. They are arranged into categories, from structure to characters to format to agents, and they follow the sequence of the screenwriting process as well, so one could periodically read through the book as one writes. This is probably best, as it is a little much to absorb in one sitting, and one likely won't remember everything.
While I realize that no book can contain everything there is to know about screenwriting, the book’s subtitle seems to have set a high bar already. I’m not a big fan of making a list of numbers to start out with, as sometimes one might find themselves with a gap to be filled at the end. But I get the feeling that there are so many lessons to be learned on this topic that it might not have been a problem for this author.
As mentioned before, there's a lot to absorb here. The advice is very solid, but it can be quite intimidating to a beginning screenwriter, or even a more experienced one. It has a lot of good information, much of which is just common sense, but which writers most often forget about.
One thing that is always helpful in film books – particularly in screenwriting ones – is the inclusion of examples from popular films. This book contains tons and tons of movie references, many actual script examples, and conversations that the writer has had with his students that illustrate his points. Each point is then no longer just a suggestion, but ties to a concrete example that the reader can identify with.
For anyone in the film industry, there is always something to learn. Each project adds a new set of lessons, and any book that can be used and referred to constantly is invaluable. Though this book has a lot of lessons for the beginner, a more experienced writer might be able to find valuable information here as well.
This book is also a little unorthodox, so a reader might find some of the information surprising. For instance, the "Structure" section starts off with the advice to avoid the Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 structure when first writing a story. I found this quite shocking, since every writing teacher I've ever had hammered the three-act structure into our heads, and my own ADHD tendencies often lead to strange rambling stories with multiple irrelevant rabbit trails that would be nearly impossible to wrestle into a cohesive story if I didn't structure everything at first...But it's certainly not a bad idea, and I intend to try it with my next script.
This is not a very expensive book at all. It has a lot of information, and could be invaluable, especially for the beginner. But since the majority of its advice is story related, it might be a good book to pair with another MWP book, The Hollywood Standard, which we reviewed in the last issue. The latter is a very extensive instructional book on the screenplay format, and both together would be immensely helpful.
This is a very extensive and informative book, and could be invaluable for not only a beginner, but also the experienced. Plus William Akers’ wry sense of humor allows his advice to go down with a smoothness that the somewhat harsh sounding criticisms might otherwise bely!
To check out some excerpts from his book, check out his article for us from two issues ago, Making A Great Sreenplay: How to Survive The Quicksand That Is Independent Filmmaking!