I’ve been a filmmaker and writer for most of my life, but I’ve never written a film. There was no screenplay writing class when I was in film school at Stanford, for some reason, and I never caught the bug.
Now, however, Julian Hoxter, my colleague in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University, has published a wonderful book called Write What You Don’t Know: An Accessible Manual for Screenwriters. I can feel my life starting to change.
I thought a book about screenwriting would be technical and dull. This one is witty, chatty, involving, technical, and engrossing. I look forward to reading more of it every day, an experience similar to chatting with Julian, a gentleman of the British persuasion and a clever and amiable bloke.
The premise in the title is that writing what you don’t know takes you outside your comfort zone and encourages you to explore ideas beyond your normal world. Stimulates the creative juices, you might say. I’m sure I’ll soon be scripting feature-length versions of the Treaty of Ghent, string theory, astrokinesiology, or some of the other gazillion things I know nothing about. Watch out, Hollywood!
Who can resist a book that says:
Screenplays are not novels … One fast route into understanding this difference is through ‘show, don’t tell.’
Go down to your local tattoo parlor and get the nice inked-up bloke down there to tattoo the words: SHOW, DON’T TELL on the backs of both your hands in big bold letters. That way you can read them as you type.
Alternatively, and assuming you aren’t a complete idiot, stick a note on your monitor or something.
And, under Bad Reasons to Write a Screenplay:
‘I want supermodels on my d.’
Clearly you have never heard the oldest filmmakers’ joke:
Did you hear about the ambitious actor who had no clue? He slept with the screenwriter.
Stranger things have happened, but unless you already possess the skills and talent to entice the aforementioned supermodels onto your aforementioned d, this is a doubly stupid reason to start writing.
Chapter titles like these make me want to keep reading:
Oh joy, another screenwriting book
It’s all about the concept
‘Taming wild words:’ it’s all about the structure
It’s all about the characters: this time I really mean it
Dialogue is not just people talking
Julian’s blog: Write What You Don’t Know. He’s holding a contest for the best photo of his book in some unusual environment or locale. The prize is, uh, a copy of his book. But I’m determined to win that contest! I’ve already taken the book bowling, and to Paris …
Julian’s book on Amazon: Write What You Don’t Know
Full disclosure: No one asked me to write this, and I bought the damn book. You should, too.