Sunday, December 21, 2014


Hi folks,
Gonna turn you onto a new book that’s blowing me away. It’s a screenwriting book, but it’s very different from the normal mish-mash of such books and has tons of wisdom that will be helpful to fiction writers as well.

It’s John Jarrell’s TOUGH LOVE SCREENWRITING and I’d recommend every fiction writer add it to their professional library.

Here’s one example that, while aimed at screenwriters, applies also to fiction writers:

“Modern cinematic storytelling has evolved into lightning-quick cuts and tightly framed visuals, shortcuts which compress and collapse screen time with a maximum of brevity while still managing to impart the essential content.

This is also how we live our lives now—in shorthand. All our mind-bending new tech reflects the same dynamic and reinforces  these same expectations. Net-consciousness dominates, dots connect at light speed. People process twice the same info three times as quickly. Readers and audiences not only “get it” faster, they bring shorter attention spans, amplifying their impatience. Bore folks for an instant, the channel’s been changed, a fresh Chrome window’s been opened and the app closed out.

Which is why your screenplay needs to be stylistically in synch with these same times and expectations as well.”

In a nutshell, this also describes contemporary fiction techniques.

The book is chockful of this kind of practical wisdom. Jarrell shows the reader all the mistakes he made and how to avoid ‘em. What’s really cool about what he says is that he’s a working screenwriter who’s sold tons of stuff to the studios. There are an awful lot of books out there written by folks who’ve never sold a blessed thing and yet somehow they get bunch of people to purchase their so-called “wisdom.” Not this guy. He’s the real deal.

Here’s another gem that struck a chord in me as I’d just written a blogpost about the very same thing. Jarrell is describing a process he went through to get the right agent… not just any agent, which is precisely what I’d just written about.

He says:

“Couple weeks flew by before our follow-up. Agent Two told me he’d enjoyed the script, and from his brief notes I could tell he’s actually read it—even more miraculous than the first call-back. In all honesty, though, Agent Two had another client sharing somewhat of the same creative wheelhouse, and servicing one writer coloring outside the traditional lines was already a handful as it was.

This shit happens. Agents don’t need many duplicate clients on their rosters, meaning writers working within the same specific genres or overlapping in the type of material they write. Agent Two was totally cool and gave it to me straight, like an adult—which, at the end of the day, is all any writer can hope for. Very warmly, I thanked him for taking the time.”

This hit home. It was exactly what I had said about a week ago in the post about why Lee Child and Matt Hilton don’t share the same agent and shouldn’t, even though both of them feature the same kind of series character. For me, this bespoke a guy who understands the business.

There are tons and tons of other practical and useful advice within these pages. Jarrell’s the real deal and his book is one of those rare things—a compendium of thoroughly useful and usable advice.

I’d get it if I were you. I think you’ll find it to be one of the best investments in your craft you’ve ever made. Either as a fiction writer or a screenwriter. Or both.

Blue skies,

P.S. Full disclosure--After reading his book, I asked John to take a look at one of my scripts to see if he can help me with his script consulting service. I've passed on these for a long time, but I never had the full trust that I'd encounter a guy with fully-operational bullshit detector before him. Check him out on his blog.

And, tell him I sentcha...


Jack Getze said...

I've been thinking how I've been affected as a writer by television and movies. I'm old, but I still grew up in front of the TV watching quick takes, quick cuts, short punchy dialogue that moves the story. What I wonder is, is this really what a book reader wants? Don't they want to spend more time in the character's head? I don't know -- I'm asking Butch. Do people curl up with a good book to be ripped through a story?

Les Edgerton said...

I think the degree of movement depends on the genre, Jack. I recall Janet Reid giving me notes on one of my novels and her main advice was to get rid of a lot of introspective sequels and focus more on scenes. She was exactly right. That's for a thriller. For say, a memoir, the pace might be slower and more leisurely perhaps. I think it really depends on the expectations of the genre, but even then, overall with all genres, I think the pace needs to be heightened over what passed for good of say 20 years ago. And, I'd beware of spending much time in any character's noggin--it's really the author's head and do we really think there's that much we need to see there? Just sayin'... :)