MAF Book Review: Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
Title: Making a Good Script Great, 2nd Edition (There's a 3rd Edition now)
Author: Linda Seger
Length: 242 pages
Get it for about $10 here.
Why is Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger a recommended read?
There are tons of writing books out there. They all tend to be consistent in pointing out that just sitting down and getting the work done is an important part of being a writer. And as a writer, I can agree that finding the discipline to sit down each day for several hours, turning off the TV and closing the website that I always habitually open and spend hours on, and getting in the groove and writing, is difficult. But once I do do that I discover I get a lot of work done. I used to think writing was all about inspiration, but I've learned now that writing is work.
And whether you've done the first step and have finished a rough draft, or if you just have the seed of an idea for a story, Making can guide you through several drafts, leaving you with a sellable script by the end.
So, what happens after the script is written?
Every writer is at a different level in their writing career, every writer has a different take on what makes for a good script, and every writer has a different skill level. You may have just finished your first script, or you may have just sold your tenth script to Clint Eastwood. After watching Hereafter, I can assure you that even scripts by veteran writers could use a little polish from Linda Seger's classic book.
In the first 20 pages I learned more about how to structure a script than I had known before. You learn the very basics, like the three act structure, how to write a set-up to start your movie with strength and meaning, why turning points are important, and what subplots can do for your script. Even if you know all of these structural points, it's a good idea to keep this book nearby, kind of like a users manual to refer to whenever you might need a clue or just some inspiration to keep going.
Beginning at chapter four Linda really takes us into the trenches. You've got all the structural stuff in place, but what about the meat of a script?
You need 90 to 120 pages, so where do those pages come from?
Linda introduces us to several techniques: action points, barriers, and complications. These techniques are used to keep the momentum of the script moving foward to the climax. The main character has to have a conflict to overcome.
She also teaches about how to write an effective scene. Each scene is a building block to the script, each scene should move the story forward. If it doesn't, does it even need to be in the script?
After laying out your structure, giving your character a goal and conflict, you may be golden. Just write away and you may find yourelf with 100 pages before the end of the week.
In the subsequent chapters she delves into character development, commercializing your script (if you want to sell it), creating dimensional characters, and rewrites.
You may feel you need little to no help in character creation, scene structure and rewriting, but that there are problems in your script that you cannot quite point out. That's another area in which this book excells. Making spends a lot of time explaining potential problem areas in scripts and helps you find solutions.
It's the comprehensiveness of Linda Seger's book, which I use as my script manual, that makes it a suitable guide for any writer of any level. Don't worry, the book isn't going to tell you how to write your script...you can follow the script structures as closely or loosely as you want. But keep in mind that most of the classic, unforgettable films of all time followed the basic three act structure and other basic story points like set-up and subplots.
Film or TV Series?
Making is really about writing a script for a feature length film. She does periodically mention TV series scripts, but only to say that it's a different animal. Personally, I've yet to discover a TV series script writing guide, but honestly haven't looked that hard either. I am writing a TV series at the moment, but tend to use a feature-film structure, in addition to the running plot lines of the characters that are included in every episode. I'll update this article when I've done more research and perhaps do another book review.
TV Series Update
So, I just did a quick search on Amazon, and there are tons of TV series writing books. The first on the list was Writing The TV Drama Series, by Pamela Douglas. There's also Gardner's Guide to Sitcom Writing, which looks like a good resource. Looks like there's tons of resources out there, so now it's just about sitting down, creating the concept and characters for your show, and writing it.