Trottier Introduces Screenwriting

Trottier_review_20210826

David Trottier. 2019. The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Over the past year I wrote my first novella as a romantic-suspense. As a career-long nonfiction writer, this was a significant milestone for me, but it was not without a few hiccups. My first editor informed me that a male protagonist would not appeal to the primary audience for romantic suspense—older women. Meanwhile, my second editor described my work as simply a thriller—guys write thrillers; women write romance—my daughter informed me. When my critique group suggested my writing style was more like a screen play than a novella, I decided that I needed to know more about screenwriting.

Introduction

In his introduction to The Screenwriter’s Bible, David Trottier writes:

In this volume, I help you begin the screenwriting and script-selling journey and guide you along the way…every aspect of screenwriting is covered in this work. That’s why I call it The Screenwriter’s Bible (xi).

At 462 pages, Trottier faithfully completes this objective better than any writer’s handbook that I have seen and he does a reasonable job of distinguishing screenwriting from other writing genre, as the designation of seventh edition attests.

Background and Organization

Trottier has a master’s degree from Goddard College and is a graduate of both the Hollywood Scriptwriting Institute and the Hollywood Film Institute. He describes himself as a screenwriter, script consultant, and teacher. He is the author of numerous books and screenplays.[1]

The Screenwriter’s Bible divides into five books:

  1. How to Write a Screenplay: A Primer
  2. Writing & Revising Scenes: A Script Consultant’s View
  3. Seven Steps to a Stunning Script: A Workbook
  4. Proper Formatting Technique: A Style Guide
  5. How to Sell Your Script: A Marketing Plan (ix-x)

The first book is preceded by an introduction and the final book is followed by a challenge, list of resources, and an index.

Difference between Screen and Novel Writing

Contrast clarifies. Trottier writes:

A novel may describe a character’s thoughts and feelings page after page. It’s a great medium for express internal conflict. A stage play is almost exclusively verbal; soap operas and sitcoms fit into this category. A movie is primarily visual…it is primarily a visual medium that requires visual writing. (4)

This distinction between novels and screenplays may help explain why women tend to be more avid readers while men consume their fiction primarily through movies.

Knowing this distinction can help authors lean into the strengths of their genre both in writing and marketing. In a novel, one might easily express the thoughts of a protagonist by simply writing in italics, but in a screen play someone would need to mouth the words, something like an aside or soliloquy in a Shakespeare play.

In marketing, one might easily think to rewrite a screenplay swapping the gender of the protagonist to match the strengths of a particular “talent” (Trottier’s word for an actor or director). While fiction writers will often talk about their “what if” scenarios, I find this exercise easier in the screenwriting context because the medium is inherently more applied, more adaptable. Imagine trying to sell your favorite actor (or actress) on your script in an elevator. Your drama might easily morph into a comedy once the gender is swapped, a transaction easier to make at least in my mindscape.

Formatting a Screenplay

Trottier’s description of the writing process is innovative and helpful in expanding one’s toolset as a writer in any genre, but my only connection to acting arose when I dated a thespian in graduate school. Trottier’s guidelines on formatting a screenplay changed all that.

Trottier describes a spec script as “speculation that you will sell it [a script] later; in other words, you are not being paid to write it.” (237) Previously, I thought that a spec script described the format, not the marketing, of a particular type of script. This is an important ah-ha moment because marketing is baked into script writing much deeper than other genre, a distinction lost on other author books that I have seen on screenwriting. Later, when he talks about copywriting (328-29), the marketing problem again presents itself as a clear distinction in screenwriting. Most authors do not need to register a copywrite because no one is likely to steal a book that does not sell enough copies to pay for the editing—I registered my first book mostly out of ignorance. A script is different because more money is potentially at stake.

Script formatting fits into this discussion of marketing because the immediate audience for a spec script is the reader (story analyst), an assistant to a producer who does the actual evaluation of your script (237). After you have read several hundred of such scripts, formatting distractions are an annoyance. Trottier simply says: “The spec script is the selling script.” (238)

The annoying 12-point Courier New font style performs the function of making it easy to translate script pages into screen time, one page per minute. New characters are introduced in all CAPS. Dialogue is indented. Trottier convinced me to purchase screenwriting software almost immediately as I read through this section in his book.

Assessment

David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible requires an investment of time to read through it. Having finished it, I am convinced that I am a better writer for having spent the time and I will likely convert my novella into a screenplay as a result. Trottier’s movie suggestions are also worth the ticket of admission. This is a book that belongs in every author’s library.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.keepwriting.com/davet.htm

Trottier Introduces Screenwriting

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Storyteller’s Prayer

T2Pneuma Banner, 2019By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father, For your willingness to condescend to our level of understanding, we offer praise and glory to your name, great author of our faith (Heb 12:2 KJV).

Forgive us, Lord, for putting on airs and speaking above the comprehensive of our readers and listeners, thinking that we are better than them.

Yet, we give thanks for the gifts and talents that you have given us in the written and spoken word.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, lead us down the storylines that you would have us tell. Help us to show only what you would have us write. May our writing always lift up our readers and point them to you.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Storyteller’s Prayer

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Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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Tennis and Morton: Write to Complete

Finishing School review, 07052018Cary Tennis and Dannelle Morton. 2017. Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done.New Tarcher Perigere Book.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The most pressing question that I have for authors that present at writers’ clubs functions is simple: how do you cope with the emotional side of writing? Feelings of despair, shame, and professional inadequacy haunt most full-time writers, regardless of their professional standing. Crafting words into books daunts authors because of the length and loneliness of task. Is it any wonder that two-thirds of those that enter a doctor of philosophy program never finish primarily because of the requirement that a dissertation must be written and approved. Among economists, the ability to complete a research project and publish the results is known aptly as the “killer instinct,” because the prize awaits only those that finish.

Introduction

In their book,Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done, Cary Tennis and Dannelle Morton (T&M) write:

“The Finishing School method doesn’t require you to change, to become a better person who is more organized, more disciplined, and has life under control. It asks only that you take few simple steps. This book first covers obstacles to finishing, both emotional and practical ones.”(xii)

Obstacles to Writing

What are these obstacles? From their interviews with frustrated authors, T&M list the top six obstacles to completing writing projects:

  1. “DOUBT: ‘I think I can’t.’
  2. SHAME: ‘I am ashamed of not finishing and too ashamed to finish.’
  3. YEARNING: ‘Does my dream of being a writer get in the way of writing?’
  4. FEAR: ‘What am I actually afraid of?’
  5. JUDGMENT: ‘Whose judgment do I fear, and how can I proceed in spite of it?’ and
  6. ARROGANCE: ‘How does arrogance blind me to what must be done?’”(4-5).

Roughly half the book (part 1 of 5) is focused on examining these obstacles in detail.

Personal Touch

I could see myself wandering around in these pages. For example, in their chapters about yearning, T&M write:

“People who are creative must take advantage of inspiration so we are allowed to change our plans. But there is inspiration, and there is running off to the office supply store.”(46)

For me, creativity takes a hit anytime something in my office is out of order or a little task calls my name. And, yes, I have made unnecessary trips to the office supply store to get blue inks pens, tape, file folders that only might be needed.

The Winchester Mystery Novel

For the writer of the never-ending novel, T&M draws our attention to the story of Sarah Winchester, widow of the inventor of the Winchester repeating rifle, who was haunted by the ghosts of the victims of her husband’s rifle. In 1884, a psychic told her that as long as she continued adding rooms to her house, the ghosts would never catch up to her. Construction on the house continued until her death in 1922. (83-84)

Building on this story, T&M offer six signs that you may be writing the “Winchester mystery novel”:

  1. “You don’t know how the book ends…
  2. You have been working on it for more than five years…
  3. You have no outline…
  4. You cannot express the nugget of the book in a sentence or two. In other words, you have no pitch [no elevator speech]…
  5. You are rewriting and perfecting scenes rather than moving forward with the story…
  6. There are lots of secondary characters with long backstories.”(91-93)

Although I write nonfiction books, several of these points bring back less than fond memories. I have, for example, struggled with how to end properly and found it difficult until I crafted a good elevator speech—the thirty second summary that you offer when a career-influencer joins you on the morning elevator ride.

The Method

So what is the Finishing School method? T&M focus on developing a non-judgmental environment in which writers can commit themselves to keeping each other on tracking and writing. This involves a buddy system where, in place of a critique partner, you have a “creative” partner whose only task is to encourage you to set writing goals, keep track of them, and continuing writing.

One of the most interesting sections of this book arises in tracking John Steinbeck’s progress, recorded in his diary in 1938, as he struggled to finish his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck set a goal of writing two thousand words daily and finished his first draft in five months. In spite of his obvious talent and acclaim, he struggled with“the same self-doubt, feelings of futility, and a frenzy to get some solitude that dogs any writer, experienced or not.”(214)

Assessment

Cary Tennis and Dannelle Morton’sFinishing School addresses an important challenge facing most full-time authors: how to stay on track and finish. As writers, we struggle to finish even the best of our writing projects out of shame, shame, and fear. Writers’ burnout arises more from emotions running wild than from the exhaustion caused by hard work. Finishing Schoolprovides useful advice, is easy to read, and provides comfort that you need not suffer alone.

Tennis and Morton: Write to Complete

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