1st Edition

Screenwriter's Compass
Character As True North

ISBN 9780240818078
Published February 17, 2012 by Routledge
214 Pages

USD $32.95

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Book Description

Ever watch a movie, and despite great production value, fantastic action sequences, a great cast, etc, you come away thinking-I just didn't buy it. Chances are it was because you didn't care about the characters. Screenwriter's Compass presents a new way of approaching screenwriting, examining how effective screen storytelling must be grounded in the vivid imagining and presentation of character.

Screenwriter's Compass will not offer formulas to follow but instead will give you the tools needed to chart your own path to screenwriting success. It details useful ways of thinking about writing, as well as practical ideas and concepts to help you discover the unique geography of your own imagination and navigate the problems posed by the struggle to express vision, agenda, and story. You'll learn how to root your writing in motivation and voice, to create screenplays that seduce and make your reader lean forward, and, most importantly, identify with your characters.

Table of Contents


Screenwriter's Compass

Big Deal-You're Writing a Screenplay

Gear Up

Screenwriting Is Writing



Reading Theory

Upsetting Aristotle

Putting Aristotle to Work

Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven

Fable and Construct

Turning Theory to Task


Master Shot Screenplay

Reading Screenplays

Composition Creates Story

On Outlines

On Character Histories

On Treatments

On Adaptation


The Blank Page

Scene and Action Description

Camera Gestures and Paragraphing

Being God

Character Logic

Hearing Voices


Thinking of Structure

Breaking a Block


First Reader

Looking Again for Logic


Challenges and Pitfalls

On Expectation


Wrighting a Screenplay

Screenplay Format

Series of Shots




Passion and Purpose

Happy Accident

Intuition and Analysis


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Guy Gallo's first produced screenplay (Under the Volcano) was directed by John Huston and released in 1984. Since then he has written over a dozen feature screenplays, with four others produced. He has over 20 years of teaching experience at the Columbia University's School of the Arts, New York University, and Barnard College, his students including James Mangold (Girl Interrupted, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), and Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland).


"More than just the compass..this is the whole ship.  Designed to safely navigate a screenwriter's journey to safe harbor, it's a virtual mega-yacht of a book: swift, secure, beautifully detailed...and above all, fun. Guy Gallo is one of the very few practitioners of the art who can show you how to chart your own course...and survive." --Tony Bill, producer The Sting (1973)

"I now have a screenwriting bible. As a working screenwriter, Gallo's words serve as a fantastic check-list for producing quality work. As a teacher of filmmaking, Gallo has provided my students and I with an incredibly useful and lucid set of tools. Gallo is a generous man for sharing his screenwriting genius." -- Emily Abt, writer, director, film professor, Princeton University

"Guy Gallo celebrates the adventure of writing a screenplay. He encourages writers to end up with 'a surprise that wasn't what you sat down to write.' It's simply the best book about writing for the screen I've read." -- Terry Jones, screenwriter, Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Life of Brian; Labyrinth

"...Gallo offers readers clear, concise tips on and examples of screenwriting techniques, liberally sprinkled with his personal experiences as a screenwriter. Accessible and engaging, Gallo's book makes an excellent resource and guide for both novices and professionals looking to add another tool to their screenwriting toolbox. Summing Up: Recommended." -- A. F. Winstead, Our Lady of the Lake University, CHOICE