Screenwriters on Screenwriting
The Story and the Craft
One of the reasons so many humdrum screenplays are produced is that so many screenwriters write by the book—somebody or other’s how-to guide to writing—and so many Hollywood executives who can barely write their own names try to impose those dull templates on stories with the potential to be something better.
On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft (published by University of Texas Press) is not one of those guidebooks. Edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez, the book collects statements and conversations that originally appeared on “On Story,” a PBS series produced by the Austen Film Festival. Not everyone is equally interesting, but some of the book’s virtues come from its contradictory messages. One screenwriter says outline your screenplay, the next one says don’t; one declares structure is everything, another disagrees. Unlike the writing coaches, guidebook self-promoters and Hollywood hacks, the conclusion to be drawn from the contributors to On Story (including Wilt Stillman and Lawrence Kasdan) is that there is no one way to create.
Perhaps Nicholas Kazan offers one of the most provocative definitions of the storyteller’s task: “What propels a story forward is the audience’s desire to know.”