A useful how-to guide for writing meat-and-potatoes Hollywood scripts.


Beating Hollywood


Scribes will stand a better chance of joining, if not beating, Hollywood with the help of this shrewd screenwriting manual.

Cuden (Beating Broadway, 2013), a screenwriter with many television scripts and the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde to his name, devotes the first part of this guide to basic principles of good storytelling. They include letting compelling, active heroes with a clear goal drive the narrative, opposed by charismatic antagonists with equally strong motives; building every scene around moments of conflict and shifts in power; putting the protagonist through hell at the hands of an invincible villain; writing only what audiences can see and hear, including lively action and punchy, terse dialogue; and sending viewers home with stunning catharses. He throws in useful tips on the mechanics and formatting of treatments and scripts, and on surviving the Hollywood shark tank; for example, he says that when a producer gives boneheaded notes on a character, one should get used to “bending a little bit” to “the people with the money.” Cuden’s 150 tips are brief, lucid, and entertaining, and are sure to give budding writers valuable insights. From them, he distills a storytelling system influenced by Joseph Campbell’s mythopoetic quest theory. It features an eight-chapter plot-point structure that moves from a “Rules of the Road” chapter, which establishes the fictive world, to the revelation of a “Grand Goal” that propels the hero through a “One-Way Door” to “Great Discoveries” and a midpoint reversal from which “Destiny Beckons”; then it proceeds to a “Rabbit Hole” of despair from which the hero must “Claw Back” to reach “A New Home” and “A New Normal.” The last part of Cuden’s book tries to illustrate his ideas by breaking down 40 famous movie scripts into scene-by-scene synopses of “beats”—integrated moments of action and meaning—and fitting them to the eight-chapter frame. The result, unfortunately, is a series of lengthy but dry plot summaries with little interpretive context. Although the eight-chapter structure comports well with genre films and melodramas such as Star Wars and Rocky, it feels awkward when applied to less-formulaic fare, such as The Godfather, Being There, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. (For example, does Thelma & Louise’s death ride into the Grand Canyon constitute “the New Normal”?) Still, Cuden’s system does offer a workmanlike blueprint for writers seeking to hone their craft.

A useful how-to guide for writing meat-and-potatoes Hollywood scripts.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5152-3029-8

Page Count: 484

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2016

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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