The Screenwriter’s Path takes a comprehensive approach to learning how to write a screenplay—allowing the writer to use it as both a reference and a guide in constructing a script. A tenured professor of screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston, author Diane Lake has 20 years' experience writing screenplays for major studios and was a co-writer of the Academy-award winning film Frida. The book sets out a unique approach to story structure and characterization that takes writers, step by step, to a completed screenplay, and it is full of practical advice on what to do with the finished script to get it seen by the right people. By demystifying the process of writing a screenplay, Lake empowers any writer to bring their vision to the screen.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: Taking the First Steps: What You Need to Know to Write a Screenplay
Chapter 1: ORIGINAL OR ADAPTED: WHICH ARE YOU WRITING?
- Original Screenplays—What You Probably Want to Write
- Adapted Screenplays—What You Should Really Think About Writing
- Whichever You Choose, a Story is a Story is a Story
- To Theme or Not to Theme
- New Media, Webisodes and TV—It’s a New World for the Screenwriter
- Chapter One Exercises
Chapter 2: CONCEPT
- The Big Idea
- The Logline
- The Premise
- Chapter Two Exercises
Chapter 3: GENRE
- What Kind of Movie is this, Anyway?
- Understanding the ‘Rules’ of the Top 7 Genres in Film Today
- Romantic Comedy
- Breaking the ‘Rules’ of the Top 7 Genres in Film Today
- Chapter Three Exercises
Chapter 4: CHARACTER
- Whose Story Do You Want to Tell?
- Getting to the Heart of Your Main Character
- Five Character Questions
- Who is this Person and What Does He/She Want and Need?
- What is the Emotional Life of Your Main Character?
- Why Should I Care About Your Main Character?
- What was His/Her Life Like Before the Story Starts?
- How Does Your Main Character Talk?
- Supporting Characters—Please, No Stock Types
- Chapter Four Exercises
Chapter 5: CHARACTER/STRUCTURE
- Let’s Talk Arcs
- Why Character and Structure aren’t Mutually Exclusive
- Using Subplots—a Major Crossroads for Character and Structure
- What if the Journey of Your Main Character Mirrors the Trajectory of the Film?
- How Understanding this Symbiotic Relationship Can Take You to a Higher Level of Storytelling
- Chapter Five Exercises
Chapter 6: STRUCTURE
- Obligatory Thanks to the Greek Guy: How Aristotle Made it All Clear
- Act I: Setting Up Your Story and Main Character’s Journey
- The Tyranny of Page One
- Writing a Killer First 10 Pages
- Ending with a Bang Up Finish
- Act II: Taking Your Main Character on a Wild Ride
- Act III: Somehow Making the Impossible Possible—Bringing it All Together
- The 7 Steps
- Page Numbers: Why Nearly All Scripts are Around 100 Pages
- Seriously? I’m Supposed to Follow Some Cookie-Cutter Formula?!
- Why It Works: The Discipline of Storytelling Construction
- Going Your Own Way: When to Break Ranks with the 7 Steps
- Pacing and How to Feel It
- What Makes a Story Move
- Writing Action—More Words Means More Care
- Deviating From the Norm: Nonlinear Structure and the Anti-Narrative Film
- Chapter Six Exercises
Chapter 7: DIALOGUE
-Writing Good Dialogue: Can it be Taught?
- Working Like Crazy to be Conversational
- Why Less is Always More
- Saying What’s Not Being Said Says it All
- Chapter Seven Exercises
Chapter 8: WRITING THE ADAPTATION
- Why Adaptations are Favored Over Originals in the Industry Today
- Public Domain: Stories Free for the Telling
- Published Stories: Contacting Authors and Acquiring Options
- How to Know What Makes a Good Story for Adaptation
- Breaking Down a 400 Page Novel into a 100 Page Screenplay: A Daunting Task
- Sample Option and Shopping Documents
- Chapter Eight Exercises
Chapter 9: WHEN TO USE YOUR BAG OF TRICKS
- Chapter Nine Exercises
Chapter 10: WHY IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
- Top 7 Things Not to Do in Your Screenplay
- Chapter Ten Exercises
PART TWO: Slogging Away: How to Know if You’re on the Right Track
- The Pitch—Every Writer’s Touchstone
- The Emotional Story—Make Sure You’re On It
- The Element of Surprise—And Why it Makes All the Difference
- The Writer’s Life—And How to Live It
- Decide on a Routine that Works
- Everything is Material
- Form a Writer’s Group and Stay With It
- Travel. Seriously. Everywhere.
PART THREE: You’re Done!—So What’s Next?
- Rewriting—Hemingway Was Right
- Polishing it Until it Shines
- Launching it Into the World
- Partying—Yes, This is the First Step
- Getting Your Script Read
- Finding an Agent
- Entering Contests
- Websites that Can Really Help
PART FOUR: Knowing Your Business
- Understanding the Collaborative Process
- Keeping up with Trends
- Knowing the Players
Diane Lake is an Associate Professor of screenwriting at Emerson College and is a regular speaker at industry conferences. Her film Frida won the American Film Institute’s Film of the Year and was nominated for six Academy Awards in 2003, winning two. She has been commissioned to write films for Columbia, Disney, Miramax, and Paramount, and has written a mini-series for NBC, created a half-hour series for ABC, and worked with numerous independent producers, actors, and directors. Diane has been a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) for over 20 years, where she has also served as an arbiter to determine film credits. Visit Diane's website at www.DianeLake.com or to schedule Diane for a speaking engagement, please email [email protected]
"Diane Lake is the real thing: a highly accomplished screenwriter AND a brilliant teacher. This book assimilates Lake’s considerable talents to offer the reader a fantastic insight into the world of screenwriting which is accessible in style, expert in knowledge and as consistently entertaining as it is wise."
—Professor Richard J. Hand, University of East Anglia
"In person and in print, Diane Lake has a talent for making complex ideas sound simple. In this accessible, inspiring and insightful book Diane challenges novice scriptwriters to avoid the formulaic and to write with passion and originality. In her own words, it’s the 'writers [who] need to be the ones aiming for the stars.'"
—Linda Buckley-Archer, author of The Gideon Trilogy
"Diane Lake's book on the art of screenwriting, unlike others, is clearly the work of a pro. Rather than hawking trite formulas, this award-winning screenwriter provides helpful methods - including superb exercises - that are both simple and flexible, and that free the aspiring scripter to find her or his own special voice."
—Sarah Kernochan, Learning to Drive
"'Structure, structure, structure?' No – Lake’s book shows the importance of language, tone, creativity, research, effort and the working process. Lake’s years of industry experience, comprehensive exercises, personality and attitude make this a screenwriting ‘how to’ stand-out book."
—Jools Ayodeji, Playwright, Screenwriting Tutor, Nottingham Trent University
"Like the best screenplays, The Screenwriter’s Path is economically written. Diane Lake packs its pages with a mix of practical, from-the-Hollywood-trenches advice as well as exercises that will benefit anyone who wants to learn how to write for the screen."
—Elisabeth Nonas, Program Director, BFA Writing for Film, Television, and Emerging Media, Ithaca College
"Diane Lake enters the crowded field of screenwriting manuals armed with an irresistible combination of screenwriting chops, a refreshing lack of self-importance, and a healthy skepticism about the rules. Recognizing that the hardest thing about writing for movies or television isn’t filling out familiar formulas but developing characters worth caring about and putting them through plots whose twists are both unexpected and satisfying, she rightly emphasizes invention as the most important skill for screenwriters to cultivate. Her conversational tone roots her advice about conceiving, writing, and selling every project in practical realities every aspiring screenwriter needs to keep in mind, and the exercises that end every chapter are bound to unleash readers’ inner writers."
—Tom Leitch, Professor of English, University of Delaware
"The Screenwriter's Path is a fine blend of expertise, passion and humor from award-winning screenwriter Diane Lake. This lively, accessible text provides guidance for students and novices, encouraging them to hone their skills while still insisting on the value of screenwriting as an art designed to enhance creative expression."
—Alice Mikal Craven, Chair, Film Studies, The American University of Paris
"Illuminating the path towards the art and practice of screenwriting is what Diane Lake's The Screenwriter's Path is all about. If you are looking for an inspirational, down-to-earth, straight-forward guide to screenplay writing – and the business of being a screenwriter – this should be your first read."
—Jule Selbo, screenwriter and author of Film Genre for the Screenwriter
"The Screenwriter’s Path is an essential pep-talk and an easy-to-read guide for anyone who shares Lake’s passion for movies and who wants to get into screenwriting. Her key insights into the industry and clever brainstorming exercises make the book ideal for both screenwriting classes and for those hoping to break into film writing on their own."
—Dennis Tredy, Professor of American Literature and Film Studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris
"This is a brilliant screenwriting guide shared by a master storyteller and teacher; down-to-earth, funny, and profoundly practical, right down to the hands-on writing exercises. Lake’s insights and clarity are gems for writers, but a wellspring of inspiration for anyone on the artist’s journey who wants to access their cinematic imagination with more heart, power, and wisdom."
—Dr. Valorie Thomas, Pomona College
"Diane Lake’s The Screenwriter’s Path offers the burgeoning screenwriter valuable insight into the craft of screenwriting by inviting readers into the intimate world of the writer. Unlike other formulaic guides to screenwriting, The Screenwriter’s Path illuminates the grace and subtlety of the creative enterprise in a style that is both accessible and inspirational making it a must read for anyone serious about becoming a screenwriter."
—Dr. Kevin Alexander Boon, writer/director of Ghosting and author of Script Culture and the American Screenplay
"Diane’s book enables screenwriters, who began the process by staring at a blank page, to organize their creative thoughts into a cohesive structure while servicing the critical task of developing characters. The book also clearly describes the important tasks which must be executed in order to produce a highly entertaining and emotionally moving screenplay. And that is the ultimate goal. As hard as it is to get screenplays financed and produced in this crowded world of movies, I firmly believe that ‘you can’t stop a great screenplay.’ Diane’s book provides the tools to accomplish this.
—Jeff Apple, Producer, In The Line of Fire, The Recruit, Academy Award-nominee for Best Screenplay