Scriptwriting For Teens by Christina Hamlett (book review).

May 1, 2016 | By | Reply More

The title ‘Scriptwriting For Teens’ seems a bit or a misnomer. I mean, is it a book telling teenagers how to write scripts, or adults how to write for teens. The sub-title of Christina Hamlett’s book is ‘The 100 Principles Of Screenwriting Every Budding Writer Must Know’, so really, it is for teens but everyone can learn from it. Saying that, if you follow the lessons given throughout this book then you will learn all the basics of scriptwriting whatever your age. You might, like me, even apply a lot of the mechanics to prose.

ScreenwritingForTeens

In the foreword, screenwriter John Collee points out that there are no short-cuts to writing a screenplay and get some life under your belt when you’re writing is drying up at the computer screen. If nothing else, this warms you up for what is to follow. Indeed Christina Hamlett herself points out that you must act like sponges and absorb as much material from all kinds of sources all the time and above all never think that no one remembers old film plots because they do, even if I am puzzled why so many get remade. I would add to that that you should learn from but not copy. Whenever I research, its more to do with finding out what’s been done before so I don’t take the same route so it is often looking at where I think others have gone wrong or left out as well.

Hamlett reminds you that when people know you are a writer that they want to do a 50/50 split with their ideas to make money, forgetting that we have enough of our own ideas, I tend to think the best response is to tell them to write their own stories and tell them that way they get 100% of the money if they can sell it. You might even tell them to buy this book as well.

Something I didn’t know was that Margaret Mitchell wrote ‘Gone With The Wind’ with not Clark Gable in mind but Groucho Marx as Rhett Butler. Now that would have been a comedy worth watching.

I like Hamlett’s explanation of reel time against real time. Although it’s a hidden code between director and viewer, when applied to prose, one must always consider what the characters are doing between events because if you leave too much thinking time, you would have to wonder why anyone wouldn’t run the other way than into danger. One thing this book points out is script to your budget and remember this is the key reason why there is usually only one of each sort of character in any film is to keep the cast small.

The ‘write what you know’ is a dictate of any form of fiction which I totally agree with but although Hamlett says it in a different way, what I would add is what you don’t know you research.

An important lesson is that script synopsises require showing the ending to confirm to any producer that you do have as good an ending as an opening. Although she doesn’t say it in this section but earlier, if you’ve already copyrighted the story then you are already protected against infringement. She points out all the ways to do it on-line and, in fact, the number of websites noted are a mine for everything from research to scriptwriting groups.

Equally important, a character has to grow from each conflict he or she wins although I wish Hamlett has explored this for TV where this is often slow to change. There is also a sharp reminder of the need for a decent supporting cast to balance things out. I’m less sure about whether or not they should upstage the lead actor. I mean, why else would have the likes of Mary Tyler Moore have gotten her own show emerging from ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ or even several members of ‘Happy Days’ do so as well?

Hamlett also reminds that ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is important in any writing medium although with visual media you also have to remember how much body language conveys to dialogue. I do like how she prepares you for the ‘Treatment’ of a story which is pretty much the equivalent of a prose précis.

When Hamlett explores the various genres, I think I need to remind her that not all American jokes make sense over here in the same way over the pond doesn’t necessarily gets our British humour. Sensibly, she does differentiate SF from fantasy, although some of her examples fall in between. The best way to remember the difference is that an SF story always abides by its own rule structure for the reality and pure fantasy does what it likes.

This is another book I’ve learnt a lot from. I even went through some of tests in my head as much of them I’ve already applied to prose. If you’re a budding scriptwriter then you will learn a lot from this book even if you don’t live in the USA. Anything related to selling a script can then be modified to the requirements of whichever country you live in. This book truly is an education that will teach you all the necessary ropes of the trade. After that, all you need is some decent ideas, a selection of original scripts that you wrote and some luck in getting them read. As Christina Hamlett points out, if you get the protocols of script submissions sorted out as well then you’re on an even playing field with everyone else submitting.

GF Willmetts

April 2016

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 226 page horizontal oblong enlarged softcover. Price: $20.95 (US), £ 6.80 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-932907-18-6).

check out website: http://www.mwp.com

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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