Writing Guidelines and Inspiration

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Alex Coulombe on September 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I’ve done a lot of reading and listening about writing over the past few years and thought I’d share some of the useful resources I’ve encountered. They cover a variety of mediums, but I think they all say something meaningful about storytelling. Enjoy, and please add your own!

Books/Audiobooks*:

‘On Writing’ by Stephen King: it’s exactly what you think. The big kahuna himself breaks down his writing process and journeys into the world of adapting his works to film in this incredibly entertaining and informative quick read.

‘STORY’ by Robert McKee: Yes, it’s kind of a cliche now (see Charlie Kaufman’s commentary on it in the movie ‘Adaptation’) but seriously, everyone should check this out. There are fantastic principles discussed at length in here, aided by extremely specific examples from your favorite films that help you to truly understand why it is that Star Wars works so well, or why the penultimate scene in Chinatown is so powerful.

‘The Art and Craft of Playwriting’ by Jeffrey Hatcher. This guy’s a successful playwright who knows his stuff (technical and artistic), and tells it all in hilarious fashion with entertaining stories. He offers writing exercises at the end of every chapter to make sure you’ve learned what you think you’ve learned. Finally, he gives a comprehensive analysis of the play ‘Hedda Gabler,’ as well as some probing interviews with three other playwrights.

‘Naked Playwriting: The Art, The Craft, And The Life Laid Bare’ by William Missouri Downs. Similar to the last one, but with an absolutely fran-freakin-tastic section where he takes two plays written by STUDENTS and dissects them. In a world filled with asking masters of their craft ‘what’s your secret?’ it’s truly valuable to do a deep analysis of work that is good, but clearly produced by those still learning their craft.

‘Steal Like an Artist’ by Austin Kleon (www.austinkleon.com): You don’t even have to buy this really– most of it’s on his website. But come on, it’s like 8 bucks and a great pocket-inspiration-o-tron. He gets right to the heart of what I believe: regardless of what medium(s) you’re interested in, all acts of creation are fundamentally linked. The book will take you a whole 30 minutes to get through, but there’s fantastic advice in there. Here’s the names of each section:
1) Steal Like An Artist
2) Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are To Get Started
3) Write the Book YOU Want to Read
4) Use Your Hands
5) Side Projects and Hobbies are Important
6) The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It
7) Geography is No Longer Our Master
8 ) Be Nice (the world is a small town)
9) Be Boring (it’s the only way to get work done)
10) Creativity is Subtraction

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Podcasts:

Nerdist Writers Panel: (www.nerdist.com/podcast/nerdist-writers-panel/) Sit downs with groups of writers and showrunners from all your favorite TV shows talking about group dynamics, writing process, staying under budget, etc.

Breaking Bad Insider Podcast: (itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/breaking-bad-insider-podcast/id311058181) Really only interesting if you watch Breaking Bad, but Kelley Dixon (Emmy-winning editor on the show) goes into enormous detail with the writers, directors, actors, composer, cinematographer, costume department, etc. about every facet of making what is in my opinion the world’s greatest television show.

Talking/Watching TV with Ryan and Ryan: (talkingtvwithryanandryan.libsyn.com/) a couple of TV critics who, in addition to critiquing television on a weekly basis, also tend to score great interviews with those involved in the nitty gritty of television. They’ve also started a new series called ‘Watching TV’ where rather than critique new episodes, they create audio commentary tracks for their favorite episodes past and talk about what exactly it was that made them work so well. So far they’ve done this with X-Files, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, LOST, Doctor Who, and Arrested Development.

*Random note: I almost exclusively listen to these rather than read them, only because I’m on the go all the time and it’s more productive for me than spending that time listening to music.

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Alex Coulombe on September 17, 2012 at 12:00 am

Oh! And another couple books I can’t believe I forgot:

‘Adventures in the Screentrade’ and ‘Which Lie Did I Tell?’ by William Goldman.

From the master screenwriter who brought you everything from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ to ‘The Princess Bride’ to ‘Misery’ to ‘All the Presidents Men’, both of these books are must-reads for anyone interested in A) learning the techniques of one of America’s greatest living writers, or B) hearing lots of hilarious and terrifying stories of what it’s like to work in Hollywood.

In the first book, there’s a great section where he presents the first draft of a screenplay based on a short story of his, then has a bunch of other really talented people with different careers in film constructively critique it based on their expertise (i.e. costume, set, lighting, etc).

In the second book, there’s an equally great section where he takes a more fully-thought out, complete screenplay, but then goes through the same process of letting others rip it apart. This time though, it’s writers.

All the while, you get to understand what’s going through Mr. Goldman’s head, from his decisions to how he feels about his critiques, and yeah, it’s just fantastic.

Avatar of Ben
Ben on October 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Awesome resources! Thanks! :)

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