Wednesday, October 08, 2014

THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER - Pilar Alessandra

I've read a lot of great books on screenwriting over the years, all with their own unique take on format, structure, characters and dialogue, but I've honestly never read a book quite as good as Pilar Alessandra's THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER. Why is it so good?

First of all, and most importantly, it's because Pilar breaks down the art of writing into smaller, more manageable chunks, ten-minute sections you can work on in your coffee break, hence the book's title. Pilar does this by asking questions and prompting the writer to write down their answer, which does initially give the impression of being formulaic, but really isn't, as you'll discover when you get further into the book. Pilar is very conscience of the fact her approach could be formulaic and ensures the writer is as flexible as possible as they build their characters and plot, actively encouraging them to play around with structure to discover for themselves if there is a better way of telling their story. The questions are also designed to work and rework the writer's idea, refining it and adding layers, pointing out the common pitfalls of structure and story and helping the writer to avoid them.

Unusually though Pilar doesn't begin with developing characters, as I prefer to do. Instead she starts with story, structure and outline before getting to character. I was a bit dubious at first but after reading those three sections I understood why Pilar did this. One of the first things discussed is character flaw and emotion, something quite often missing from new writers' screenplays. Character flaw drives the conflict and emotion is what draws an audience in. Without these important elements a screenplay would be dull, flat and uninteresting.

Once the story, structure and outline are done then Pilar investigates character, importantly including the antagonist and secondary characters - who are quite often under developed - so they're all fully realised and very real to the reader.

Then comes the first draft, or the speed draft as Pilar calls it - rougher than what most writers would call a vomit draft - building up the initial rough draft outline, adding new scenes and layers to existing ones, until the full first draft is finally complete. Again, unusually, dialogue is explored after the first draft section, not during, which is great because dialogue is deserving of its own chapter and a separate focus on it really helps a screenplay to stand out.

The section I found most helpful was the approach to the rewrite process. I have trouble with rewrites as I always try and do too much in one go, but Pilar splits things up into different passes - concept, structure, story, scene, character, dialogue, format, element and holistic - stressing that most writers won't have to work their way through every pass. It certainly cuts down on the amount of work and concentration needed for rewrites and is also extremely helpful if like me, you are constantly being interrupted as you work.

Pilar also talks about craft, again not up front but after the initial rewrites, so the writer can look at action lines, fight scenes, emotional action, scene transitions, character and setting descriptions and tonal writing amongst other areas, before getting to work on the final edit.

Finally Pilar discusses screenplay presentation and opportunity, exploring networking, marketing materials and pitching, with her own unique and valuable insight. There are no long, plodding chapters to read either, only short sections, lessons and insight, so the book can be read in ten-minute bursts, making it easy to handle, especially if you can't devote the time to read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. This is the best screenwriting 'how to' book available for new writers at the moment and also has practical sessions for the more experienced writer. It's a book you'll want to refer to again and again. All in all Pilar's fantastic, incredible, useful advice makes THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER the only book that should be a 'must have' in your collection.

Pilar Alessandra will be at the LONDON SCREENWRITERS' FESTIVAL (LSWF) later this month from the 24th to the 26th of October, so if you're going make sure you attend all of her sessions. And if you don't have a ticket... why the bloody hell not???? Get one today, don't delay!

1 comment:

Carlie Lee said...

Oo, thanks for that. I'm a novel writer, and I recently tuned in to a webinar with a script-writing agent on IdeasTap. When I asked what sort of books she might recommend, her mind went blank!
I've found script-writing books very helpful with my fiction (particularly pacing and tension). Dara Marks particularly was excellent, so I shall buy Pilar's book too.
Thank you very much!