TEXT review


A renewed tool in the screenwriter’s toolbox

review by Tom Drechsler-Savage

 

Craig Batty and Zara Waldeback
Writing for the Screen: Creative and Critical Approaches, 2nd Editon
Red Globe Press, London UK 2019
ISBN 9781352006025
Pb 271pp AUD39.95

 

In recent years, the media landscape has been redefined by the invention of virtual reality and various social media platforms supporting video distribution. Responding to such innovations in the presentation of stories, Craig Batty and Zara Waldeback have updated their original 2008 publication to tackle these emerging trends to confront the diversification of technology and culture in relation to screenwriting. To thrive within an everchanging media landscape, Batty and Waldeback encourage their readers to embrace this change as a means to unlock creative potentials across form, co­ntent and overall approach to the practice. As the life of a writer is guided by stories occurring both on the page and in the world around us, aligning ourselves with these stories allows us to initiate an active engagement with how they shape our lives and craft.

In contrast to an ever-changing world, we soon realise how key aspects of storytelling have remained unchanged. This is made evident in the first part of Writing for the Screen with its focus on the basics of screenwriting. While devoting four chapters to character, plot, visual storytelling and dialogue, Batty and Waldeback avoid the convention of a ‘how to write for screen’ guide through original reiterations of familiar ideas and emphasis on implementation within creative practices. This becomes more evident in the second part, which builds on the foundations discussed in the first to offer innovative ideas on how screenwriting can evolve. This second half revises the same four aspects of screenwriting (as above) to offer alternative means for thinking about structuring plot or developing character, amongst others. With this, they offer original insight to writers that want to challenge a more conventional approach and encourage new creative directions to be experimented with. The more advanced ideas would be of great use to aspiring screenwriters; challenging them initially, then revisiting this book later to continue developing their craft. Generally, discussion within each of the chapters will identify key elements related to a given topic and its role in relation to various other aspects of the screenwriting process. Each of the sections provide tools to assist with a specific aspect of screenwriting, while also identifying common problems that arise. Case studies are also used throughout, providing examples of films that demonstrate how dynamic core principals are in applications. While representing a specific detail with a case study, any advice offered extrapolated remains general enough that is may be applied in development of original stories; these rules are always malleable, it is a matter of how you use them to improve your own writing.

Throughout, emphasis is placed on the application of theory within practice to ensure the focus remains on working creatively in every aspect of screenwriting. In addition to the four main chapters on script development, both parts of the book address the industry and culture surrounding screenwriting. Much of this relies on the authors’ having a background working in or with industry. Drawing on personal experiences, Batty and Waldeback describe what it is like working in entertainment industries; even highlighting differences between writing for film, television and web series. Being a successful screenwriter is more than just producing compelling scripts; you need to know how to market your work, collaborate with others and adapt to the changes in how stories are distributed to viewers. Beyond the specifics of writing craft, this book encourages screenwriters who are starting out to think about how they plan to position themselves within the industry. At various points, they specify habits and behaviour that distinguish amateurs and professional screenwriters to encourages a self-awareness in the reader to see potential mistakes in their approach to writing. The burgeoning screenwriter is encouraged to connect with the journey of their own professional development, to embrace their process as an intimate learning of their craft. Speaking to aspiring screenwriters, Batty and Waldeback avoid the figure of a tormented writer to advocate the healthy pragmatism of a ‘professional at work’ mentality. They are clear, the role will take dedication to the craft, an openness to new ideas and an ability to meet deadlines. Emphasis on this alternative proposes the view of writing as less of a personal struggle and more a service to the greater community; being able to bring clarity to local cultural trends and raise awareness around important social issues. In focusing directly on practice, Batty and Waldeback have improved upon the conventions of a basic ‘how to writing’ book by giving a holistic look at what to expect when writing for the screen.

Lastly, two chapters of writing exercises support the discussion of putting ideas into practice. Each chapter is located at the end of both parts and demonstrates how to apply the preceding chapters. The exercises work as thought-experiments to develop specific aspects of any script. Each offers the reader a different way of thinking about writing for screen, then gives them the opportunity to try it out and see what they come up with. Even experimenting with throwaway scenes may provoke new perspectives on a character or a new direction to explore a story further. More than anything, Batty and Waldeback encourage writers to experiment in their work to extrapolate a story’s full potential. The general spirit throughout the book is a call to stop restricting the task of writing to the linear-development of a script, but instead as dynamic processes of incremental change. In practice, this understanding of creativity opens up a range of pathways uncovered while writing. The ideas found within this book reveal the seemingly infinite number of ways to approach the many tasks involved in screenwriting.

With this second edition’s inclusion of recent culture and media trends, Batty and Waldeback updated the initial publication for this new creative landscape. By covering a range of topics, Writing for the Screen is ideal for educators or students looking for a primer that can instruct independent screenwriting or serve as a solid course textbook. It provides clear explanations of key aspects of script development interspersed with more advanced philosophical ideas for a student to contemplate as they progress with their career. In addition, its portrayal of what it is like working within a creative industry offers practical advice for those striving to achieve success in screenwriting. While students and early-career screenwriters would benefit greatly from this, it would be a matter of diminishing returns for more established screenwriters, who may need to read over many familiar ideas to find the more original insights. That being said, it is difficult to criticise this book of what it does not do because what Batty and Waldeback set out to accomplish is achieved over its duration. This is a book that is made to be picked up and used by anyone willing to apply themselves to the craft of screenwriting. We are encouraged to embrace new story ideas and innovations in storytelling technologies in order to unlock their creative potentials. One final note, to those interested, it is worth mentioning the companion book, The Creative Screenwriter: Exercises to Expand Your Craft (2012), wherein Batty and Waldeback further discuss their understanding of the role of creativity within the practice of screenwriting.

 

Works cited

 

 

Tom Drechsler-Savage is a PhD student in the School of Creative Industries at the University of South Australia. His research focuses an ecocritical study of American cinema. He is also a professional videographer and filmmaker.

 

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Vol 23 No 2 October 2019
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
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