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Book Review: The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

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Writer Boy was having a less than thrilling realization. As an emerging writer and not a fella who felt he had yet conquered his chosen craft of being a wordsmith, he had been wrestling with the evil passive word demons. Writer Boy hated passive tense because he mostly wrote thrillers, and there just aren’t many passive thrillers. He found it more than a tiny bit ironic that something passive could be so difficult to battle. 

It occurred to him that this very word battle he had fought in his mind, over and over, might be the genesis of the term “Passive Aggressive”. He scratched his thick crop of salt and pepper hair, watched a few silver strands float onto his keyboard and idly noticed his email had an urgent desire for him to read another incredibly important missive from some purveyor of that cyber mixed meat called spam. His word battle all but lost, Writer Boy surrendered to the semi-wanted distraction of email.

It had not been lost on Writer Boy that his computer was significantly smarter or at least had a better memory that he did. His word processor never misspelled, his thesaurus (he had to use the spell checker to make sure that was spelled right) provided him with new options when words escaped him. His handwriting, never a thing of beauty, was no longer relevant and his tendency to misplace things only meant that he had a limited place on his computer hard drive to search. A much better option than dumpster diving and circular-file surfing. Yes, poor Writer Boy was definitely considering a silicon surrender to his silicon savior.

If Writer Boy accepted the superior nature of his own little laptop, how could he not listen to the direction of the emerging cloud computer system that was threatening to take over commerce? How could he possibly argue with the great Amazon Warrior (Jeff Bezos)? How indeed. Amazon had just sent Writer Boy a “recommendation” of the perfect book for him. Amazon had decided that Writer Boy needed The Screenwriter’s Bible, 4th Edition, by David Trottier.

At first Writer Boy was completely drawn in by the binary knowledge of the great Amazon computer system, that was until Writer Boy realized he already had The Screenwriter’s Bible 3rd Edition, and he had purchased that version from Amazon. Say it ain’t so Joe (or in this case Jeff). Amazon was recommending a book he already had, but in a new edition. Amazon might not be thinking in Writer Boy’s best interest or worse, Amazon might have forgotten that Writer Boy already has this book or even worse, Amazon might be just pushing Writer Boy to buy any book. Oh the agony. Writer Boy raced to his book shelf, thumbed through Edition 3 and considered, would it be possible for the new version of the Screenwriter’s Bible to be worth the shelling out of the twenty or so dollars to find out.

Writer Boy’s thoughts drifted back to when he first bought the Screenwriter’s Bible, what he had learned, and where it had failed him. At the time of his first purchase it was a no-brainer; Screenwriter’s Bible was the perfect starter’s tool and it had served him well since then. The question was, if he were a new screenwriter would it still serve him best? Was this the first book a new screenwriter should buy?

Times change, books change, rankings come and go, (unless you are the Cubs and then the outcome is fixed regardless) and the real value of a book can change with new opponents for your reading and learning dollar. The Screenwriter’s Bible is widely considered a basic requirement for the new screenwriter. When I started on the path to screenwriting, there were far, far fewer books to pick from to learn the craft. The majors have remained, well, these majors: Syd Field, William Goldman, Cole/Hagg, the list goes on and on all the way to Aristotle and for the purposes of this review, David Trottier.

The market for screenwriting books has gone from damned near zero in the 1980s to the 57 books suggested by Mr. Trottier in his Screenwriter’s Bible in 1998, to the Amazon search today that yields more than 100 current titles and I am sure many more esoteric ones. The number of people doing consulting, writing, advising to pending and hopeful screenwriters has exploded. Contests pop like dandelions; the Creative Screenwriting Magazine Expo has grown beyond imagination since I attended my first one. Yes, it is a brave new world; a new world with competition even for the classics.

So, how well does the Screenwriters Bible age? How well does it compete with the new bucks that seek to make a buck? It really depends on what you want. This is The Bible’s forth iteration. Improvements are expected even though it was an amazing solid tool when I originally bought the 3rd Edition. Improvements require a solid basis to work from. I started from a baseline of the 3rd edition and it was, for me, a great place to start.

I find it to be a bit of a giggle that they use “book” as a section classification; but hey, who I am to judge, I haven’t sold books like Mr. Trottier has. The sections (books) inside the Bible cover: basics, a useful workbook, a formatting guide, a section on specs, marketing and a extremely useful resource guide. As I said earlier, the resources available to new writers have exploded lately and guidance is of real value. Everything in the book is clear, well developed and of substantial use over the entire term of your career in screenwriting.

Newbies could do a lot worse than start with this book for several reasons. In my time talking to and working with other people who are, or want to be screenwriters, The Screenwriter’s Bible is almost an expectation for a new writer. It is also a great building block, not everything you could ever need but a great foundation from which to build your screenwriting library.

Are there more in-depth books? Absolutely! But very few books give you the jump-start you need. Every time I can’t remember something or wonder about a specific question about screenwriting, I head to this book. No, it doesn’t have every answer, but it has a lot of them and it taught me the basics I needed in the time frame I needed them. The short of it is that The Screenwriter’s Bible is must have reading. Which almost begs the question, why review this book now? It has been on the market for a time and this version is aging. If you are into screenwriting, this book, whatever version you have, belongs on your self. This isn’t just a review then, it is a true recommendation. Put The Screenwriter's Bible on your shelf; you should have it, others will expect you to have it and of course, as Writer Boy can tell you, Amazon still recommends this book to anyone with a desire to read about screenwriting. What more do you need?

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  • Neville Antonio Faulknor

    Hi, this is Neville and I would like to write scripts for movies. Here is a sample. When God cast Lucifer down to earth, he was in darkness. The serpent exposed himself to the sunlight and received a massive burnt in his head that left a mark which contracted to his geanes, the mark of the beast, the ball head. When the serpent saw Eve alone and naked in the garden he wanted everything that God made. He temped her and had sex with her. He released his spirits (sperm) into her and contracted her black geanes. Her womb was now cursed and so would the children she would bring fort of the serpent which would be the different races of the earth. Because of the curse the children looked different from one another. Because of the geanes received from the black woman all were now able to roam the earth freely. Lucifer was of the heavens so his eyes would have been blue like the sky and his hair and skin white like the clouds. Please let me know if you’re interested in my script. I have many more things to say about the Bible and the Book of Revelations. If you’re not interested I will sell my scripts elsewhere, Bye now.