Writers, producers, and consultants Vicki Peterson and Barbara Nicolosi have a new addition for your shelf of screenwriting books. The book is called Notes to Screenwriters, and we think that it deserves a spot next to Save the Cat and Story.
With so many books on screenwriting, it must be a daunting task for writers to come up with something new to add to the writer’s curriculum. What Vicki and Barbara have done with this book is not try to replace or out-do the classics of screenwriting instruction. Instead, they’ve gathered together handy advice and wisdom from their years on both sides of the table.
Vicki and Barbara build each chapter around sets of related notes that screenwriters commonly receive on scripts – notes like “Not enough conflict” or “The characters weren’t active.” They then provide writers with practical advice for improving their writing and their approach to screenwriting as a business.
One of my favorite things about this book is that Vicki and Barbara recognize from the get-go that the people reading their book may be completely new to screenwriting, may be on the brink of their first sale, or may be producers hoping to improve the notes they give. Rather than trying to address all of these audiences at once, they provide a guide at the front on how to use the book best.
For example, they write, “If you are a writer but have never written a screenplay, skip to Chapter 3 and read through Chapter 16… If you are a writer who has written one or more screenplays, but has never gotten them read or considered anywhere, begin at Section III and read the chapters about business. Before you do your rewrite, move back in the book to Section I.”
The book is primarily meant for writers who are getting feedback from professors, writing groups, producers, or consultants. In other words, if you’ve finished one or more scripts, you can learn something from this book.
A few of our favorite takeaways include:
- A chapter on what the professional screenwriter’s life is really like. This chapter gives a realistic look at what writing pay, work, and lifestyle you can expect.
- Vicki and Barbara’s 16 Rules for Professional Screenwriters. Some of our favorites include “Never make your own deals. (You are a sheep among wolves)” and “An agent is no substitute for a brain. (Don’t be business illiterate.)”
- A list of 42 dialogues clichés to avoid in your script. A few examples: “What part of ____ don’t you understand?” “This is not about [whatever]. It’s about [whatever.]” “What is it? You can tell me.”
A Note on Religion: Vicki and Barbara are both religious people, and this comes through at several points in their writing of this book. If you’re a religious person, this will likely add to your appreciation of the book. If you’re not, I don’t think it will detract from your reading.