the net guide for creative
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
The Complete Book of Scriptwriting
J. Michael Straczynski
Titan Books trade paperback, 424 pages £14.99
review by Trevor Mendham
J.Michael Straczynski (JMS) is best known as the creator of Babylon 5 and the
doomed Crusade. What is less well known (at least to me) is his vast range of
experience in the television industry - everything from The Twilight Zone to
Murder She Wrote. Having worked not only as a writer but also as a script
editor and producer, etc, JMS has seen the scriptwriting game from both sides of the
desk. The Complete Book Of Scriptwriting is a distillation of his experience,
which includes some blunt opinions. As an extra bonus the full script to a Babylon
5 episode - "The Coming Of Shadows" - is included.
From a UK point of view, the first thing to note is the very parochial nature
of this book. Not only is it US-centred, it's very specific to Hollywood. JMS assumes
that everything worthwhile in TV and film takes place in California, and also that
all his readers want to live and work there. Much of the detail is thus inappropriate
for a non-US audience. That said, it remains a fascinating and useful book. JMS
covers every aspect of scriptwriting: from the nuts and bolts such as terminology and
page layout through to the workings of the studios and how to pitch your idea. There
is some advice on story construction, though this is not a book about creativity - he
assumes that you already have your tale to tell.
The book is centred on television and film scripting, with shorter sections
covering animation, radio and stage plays. If your main interest is those fields then
you probably want to look elsewhere. Whilst these sections are interesting, they're
clearly aimed at the TV scriptwriter who fancies trying a different medium.
This is definitely a pragmatic, hands-on manual, yet it also manages to be
inspirational. JMS writes in a very chatty, personal style. Reading this book feels
like a conversation in the pub with a knowledgeable friend. He points out in
depressing detail how difficult it is to succeed in the scriptwriting game and how
illogical and annoying the industry is. He then proceeds to reassure you that despite
everything it is worth persevering, that it is worth the effort.
Unlike many 'How To' books, this one won't just be left on the shelf gathering
dust. It'll be referred to again and again.
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