The Screenplay Workbook: The Writing before the Writing

By Fulop, Laszlo | Journal of Film and Video, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Screenplay Workbook: The Writing before the Writing


Fulop, Laszlo, Journal of Film and Video


THE SCREENPLAY WORKBOOK: THE WRITING BEFORE THE WRITING Jeremy Robinson and Tom Mungovan. Hollywood: Lone Eagle, 2003, 200 pp.

There are countless books on the market that supposedly teach the novice the magic tricks of screenwriting. One can learn about plot points, turning points, three-act structure, character development, character mythology, character arc, and so on. There are books about "screenplays that sell" (as if all the others would-intentionally-teach screenwriting that would not). After reading through a pile of handbooks, one could start all over and learn the same things from different works with slightly different points of view. Why one more book, then? The Screenplay Workbook is different: it is a workbook. The market is saturated with books that tell you how you should do it; this one actually helps you do it. This handbook doesn't feed the reader lengthy explanations stipulating the exact page number where the first plot point should be located. Exactly the opposite: most of the pages in this book are almost empty, left for the reader/screenwriter to fill in. These are worksheets that pose a series of questions, from the size of the budget of the would-be movie to "Where does the character see him/herself in 10 years" (19) and "What went wrong/changed in the relationship" (71).

The Screenplay Workbook consists often chapters, followed by an appendix that lists and explains online resources that may be of interest and help to any (would-be or professional) screenwriter. Each chapter deals with an important element in the screenwriting process: concept creation, character development, character relationships, plot structure, plot points, character arc. Chapter eight, "Plot Chart," is a combination of the previous ones. The authors explain the concept of plot chart with the following equation: "Plot Points + Plot Structure + Character Arc = Plot Chart" (142). Finally, there is a chapter titled "Scene by Scene" that enters the intrascene level, explaining the internal structure of single scenes.

Each chapter starts with a two- to three-page explanation, in simple terms, of the main concepts of screenwriting (plot points, character arc, etc.) Although the authors target a wideranging audience-"Whether you're a student, a screenwriter novice, or a seasoned professional, The Screenplay Workbook is an invaluable tool!" (3)- these brief explanatory paragraphs seem aimed exclusively at novices. This shouldn't be a problem, since "seasoned professionals" could skip these paragraphs and start right away using the worksheets. But speaking as one just starting out in this profession, I found the proportions odd. For example, in chapter six, "Plot Points," we learn, in short paragraphs, what turning point and plot points mean. But three quarters of the section deals with the length of the screenplay: the importance of writing a project that is no longer than 120 pages. I would have liked to read more about plot points, less about the number of pages. The same lack of relevant information characterizes chapter three, "Character Development," where the three pages of explanation focus exclusively on naming the character(s). The writers should also have discussed the elements of creating a complex character. Surely it is more important to learn how to describe, in a few original, relevant words, the characters that enter the fictional world of the screenplay, than to get a thesaurus and hunt for names. Additionally, it was a little confusing that here character development means learning more and developing your ideas about your characters, and should not be confused with "character growth (or lack of growth)" (113), the subject of chapter seven, "Character Arc." There we are told that "A character arc is a blueprint for character development. This development usually coincides with the story's progression" (113)-in other words, we are finally back to the most commonly used sense of this screenwriting term. …

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