Another screenwriting book? Come on, it’s all been said before starting with Aristotle’s Poetics. No one really ‘owns’ teaching screenwriting. Maybe Syd Field could take a few books to task, but even he didn’t create the three-act structure or any of the concepts of storytelling. Field dominated the market first, however, setting the screenwriting benchmark – and locking in most of the terminology we all use today. (Thank you, Syd!) But no one owns the fundamentals of screenwriting, which is why there are so many books on the subject. (I even have a couple.) Each one comes with the author’s unique point-of-view on how to approach the craft. Find one that speaks to you and you’re set. And if you’ve found that one… why read another?
Sacrilege! Most of the books on my bookshelf are about screenwriting. If you’re like me, you’re addicted to screenwriting books. I can’t get enough of ‘em! I love to read them just for a new point-of-view to elevate my writing skills. It keeps me fresh and on top of my screenwriting game. Sometimes, I’ll pull one out and reread for inspiration or reference – thank you, David Trottier – but I’ve never reread a screenwriting book cover to cover. I’d rather find a new one, and I just did: Constructing a Story by Yves Lavandier. (Yes, someone actually took me up on my offer to review any writing books.)
The Short of It: I liked the book. It’s worth reading for beginning screenwriters who want a step-by-step, in-depth explanation of how to start and build their storyline. It’s also a good read for experienced screenwriters that want to just check out one section at a time when they hit a snag in their writing. Overall, it’s a great tool for properly building a solid plot.
What I Liked the Most: The chapter on creating story and character arcs is unique. I’ve never seen anyone break down arcs in this manner. I found it very useful as a writer of any medium. It’s a MUST READ part of the book.
What I Thought was Missing: Not much is missing but as a screenwriter, I feel most books on the subject fail to explain subtext. For me, subtext is the most misunderstood and overlooked part of screenwriting. It’s also a vital tool in a screenwriter’s arsenal and needs to be taught – since most writers just luck into its potential when they think about theme and character motivation. Not that the topic doesn’t appear in the ‘subtext’ of the book, especially when Lavandier focuses on motivations and subgoals. In a visual medium, however, subtext is even more important because it’s locked into a story’s core but must come across in the performances. It can’t be spelled out in the script or stated in dialogue, but it is still there on every page. Since I like Lavandier’s point-of-view, I would have liked to see a whole chapter on how to handle subtext. Perhaps in the second edition?
On a side note, I wish the book’s title had a subtitle to let potential readers know it’s a book for screenwriters. All writers could certainly benefit from reading and following Lavandier’s advice, but it is a screenwriting book and should say so on the cover with words and maybe even a film related picture, instead of some kind of shell. Minor things, but huge when it comes to finding the right audience and marketing success.
The Bottom Line: Constructing a Story was written by a seasoned screenwriter, filmmaker and teacher, Yves Lavandier, and offers some overly academic explanations but follows them up with easy to understand steps and tons of examples to completely grasp his approach to screenwriting. Some of the academic wording comes from being originally written in French and translated into English, but Alexis Niki did the translation. I was happily surprised to discover her association with the book. She’s a talented screenwriter that I’ve known for many years online. So, we’re really getting two screenwriters’ insights for the price of one!