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.