Now Write! Screenwriting ed. by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson (review)
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Now Write! Screenwriting Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson, eds. New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2010, 343 pp.

It can be difficult for a screenwriting instructor to find a text that will properly facilitate his or her instruction. Many screenwriting books offer a familiar, almost rote approach consisting of anecdotal accounts from the author's often restricted experience coupled with a creative formula that is usually simplistic and limited, its true practical application to the craft almost nonexistent. Obvious statements extolling the value of strong structure and layered characterization are often matched with equally obvious scene, dialogue, character, and plot examples from familiar films. At best, these books offer the reader a limited insight into the truly difficult and painstaking processes that must be performed to create a successful original screenplay. At worst, they are completely off the subject or even misleading, these flaccid and unfocused texts being more like personal success narratives than practical workbooks. With these works, script instructors vainly struggle to gather functional information that could even support let alone sustain any sensible or productive script course.

Now Write! is not a screenwriting book in any traditional sense. It does not offer a winning recipe, secret plan, or magic elixir that will unlock the vault that contains the perfect formula with which to create and structure a solid screenplay. Instead, it presents a series of exercises, almost a hundred of them, arranged under nine categories that cover almost every conceivable subject or area relevant to screen-writing. In "Choosing Your Story," "Get Writing," "Structure," "Theme," "Crafting Scenes," "Character Development," "Verbal and Nonverbal Communication," and "Revision," this book offers its readers practical, hands-on exercises that will ably assist them in furthering and enriching their craft. There are even exercises under the category "Now What?" that can assist the reader in building a log line or finding an agent. For the screenwriting instructor, the exercises can be more than helpful in organizing a class. There are few texts that can match this book's breadth and variety in its sensible and workable writing drills.

Written by such established professionals as Wesley Strick, Nicholas Kazan, and Glen Mazzara and such notable instructors as Syd Field, William Aker, and Linda Seger, this book's essays offer personal experience matched with practical application. Not only does this material make for entertaining and informative reading; it provides both aspiring film writers and screenwriting instructors intriguing and enlightening advice, secrets, and ideas for the successful construction of a workable screenplay. It could not have been easy to find ninety-five essays and exercises of this quality focused on this singular craft, but editors Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson have done a superb job of compiling and organizing this wealth of information.

If a class in scene construction is on an instructor's schedule, then he or she should take a look at Tommy Swerdlow's essay "Self-Knowledge Availed Us Plenty" (174-77). Besides his exercise, one that focuses on outlining or structuring a scene, Swerdlow, one of the original writers of Shrek, offers some excellent life advice:

Do not play to your strengths. Be as honest with yourself as you can about your strengths and weaknesses, and always find someone you trust and respect to read your work. I can be clear with your script, but when it comes to my own work, there always comes a moment when I need a fresh pair of eyes. It is my firm belief that in doing what is difficult, what does not come naturally, [End Page 87] we embrace the very nature of writing and process. For me, writing is often a painful, labor intensive way to spend time, though a well-written line, scene, or script is, for me, a profoundly satisfying experience.

(176, emphasis in original)

Need an exercise in the proper conception of strong scenes? Then read what Craig Kellem, an alumnus of Saturday Night Live, has to say in "Scenes as Concepts" (181-83): "Professional writers understand that all scenes count. And there is no room for filler or bridges when true excellence across the board is the standard. Each scene should have its own magic, raison...