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.
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.
The Screenwriter’s Bible divides into five books:
- How to Write a Screenplay: A Primer
- Writing & Revising Scenes: A Script Consultant’s View
- Seven Steps to a Stunning Script: A Workbook
- Proper Formatting Technique: A Style Guide
- 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.
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.
Trottier Introduces Screenwriting
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com