While it does focus on the core elements of storytelling – Concept, Logistical Structure, Character Evolution, and Page Writing - (Not Just) Another Book on The Craft of Screenwriting also delves into the emotional, life changing, and evolutionary process that a writer experiences when developing story…and it’s told from a very personal and purposefully blunt approach by a fellow writer who is experiencing the same ups and downs as the reader.
A must read for any writer who (not just) wants a career in storytelling, but also for storytellers who wish to gain insight on the creative process in an uplifting, comedic, emotional, and story-first manner.
So here is the introduction for the book. If you would like to purchase the book, you can do through this link. Enjoy.
It was the winter of 2002, only a few months after the September 11th tragedy, when I first moved to Los Angeles. With all of the confusion and fear that was swelling in the minds of just about every human on the planet at the time, simply due to my own personally naïve and rose-colored glasses way of looking at life, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I was going. I wasn’t confused. I had a direction. And that direction was west. Los Angeles. Hollywood. The movie business. Manifest Destiny.
I had zero experience.
Sure, I had spent the prior three years at film school, taking classes on film technique, producing and budgets, and of course screenwriting, but even I secretly knew I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I wouldn’t admit that to anyone of course. I was far too confident in my ability to “wing it” and just knew that as long as I made it to Los Angeles, something would work out. I was lucky in that the final semester of my Columbia College Chicago senior year was a literal Semester in LA Program that selected a handful of students who wanted the L.A. experience, but who also wanted to receive further education in the world of filmmaking and television production. It really was the perfect way to ease my way into Hollywood, doing so alongside about fifty other college students just as naïve but hopeful as I.
I was 22.
I had written two screenplays before I moved to Los Angeles. The first was a feature length, coming of age, inspirational drama about a young man who has ongoing conversations with God about how to grow up. It was called Chasing Rainbows and, yes, it was just as terrible, cheesy and cliché as the title. I remember that only a couple years ago I reopened the old script file and read through a few pages, and my only thought was, “Thank God I didn’t send this out to anyone.” The other script was an original half-hour sit-com that my TV writing instructor blatantly said wasn’t funny. “This is a situational comedy and it doesn’t have a situation, nor is it funny.”
I disagreed with him.
After six months of living in Los Angeles, losing my high-profile internship because the production company went under while I was working there, and then attempting to deliver pizzas to hidden, cliff-side Malibu mansions long before GPS or in-dash navigation, and eventually breaking my ankle while sprinting along a Culver City sidewalk with two (very late and likely cold) pizzas in either hand, I called my parents and said, “I’m coming home.”
I was still 22. And broke.
It wasn’t long before I felt the urge to give Los Angeles another try. I spent a year living at home in my tiny town of Delavan, WI, about an hour or so north of Chicago. I was lucky, to say the least, in that it was always easy to go back home. I loved it. Caring, patient, doting parents who always simply wanted me to be happy. Friends and lifelong companions who I shared everything with and who happened to all remain in the little Rockwell-esque Wisconsin town (and still do). We all know there isn’t truly such a thing as ‘the simple life’, but the small-town life allows for ease and contented deep breaths that eventually feed us like an addicting drug. A happy one, of course, but nonetheless, comfortably addicting.
I wasn’t ready to give in to ‘simple’.
The opening chapter of this book could end up being quite lengthy if I continued to describe each and every time I attempted to find success in Los Angeles, because between the ages of 22 and 28, I moved back and forth between home and Los Angeles five times. Remember that sentence above? “I wasn’t ready for simple.” I’ve learned over the years that I am either a glutton for punishment, or just another determined writer who won’t take no for an answer. It’s likely a combination of both, because if you are choosing to dive into the craft of screenwriting (which, because you’re reading this book, I assume that you are), I hate to break it to you, but it’s kind of a necessity. You have to accept epic failures over and over again, but without ever losing the resolve to find success. If you’re not ready to experience failure, to be told that you’re not good enough, and to constantly be reminded that there are people out there who are more capable, more talented, better educated, and have more money than you, then you need to put this book down and read something else.
It took me over a decade to find success in this town (and I’ve barely begun).
I’ve written a number of screenplays that never went anywhere and, most of which, I’ve tossed aside or forgotten about. There was one script, however, that kept nagging at me. One script that ended up turning into my little baby. That one script that no matter how terrible a draft was, I couldn’t allow myself to stop working on it. And I didn’t stop. After six years of writing roughly 13 or so drafts, it finally became something I was at least confident enough to give to four industry friends of whom I knew wouldn’t bullshit me.
I was terrified.
All four of the friends came back and said they enjoyed the script (that’s cool), but (here we go), it was aiming at a very young audience and needed to be darker (ugh…ok) and, here was the kicker, it wouldn’t ever get made unless it was based on source material (what the hell is source material?) After doing some research and figuring out that “source material” meant that it needed to be based on something like a novel, comic book, etc, a terrifying thought occurred to me. “Shit. I have to write the novel.” The thought was terrifying only because I had previously considered writing the novel, but it felt so daunting, so impossible, that I just didn’t feel confident in my writing ability to deliver a story that was deserving of the concept.
I did it anyway.
Here is where I could, again, add pages and pages to this opening chapter because of how much happened to me before, during, and after I sat down to write my first novel. So, instead, and because I feel that it’s necessary for you, the reader, to learn from my ups and down, experiences, and hardships, I will summarize. I quit a job that I had for six years because it was soul-sucking. I then found a new job that paid me more than I had ever been paid, but lost it in three months due to down-sizing and at the same time had just rented my first L.A. house, of which I quite quickly couldn’t afford. Having to sublet the house and sleep on the living room couch, it was demoralizing to think that someone was sleeping in my bed, upstairs, while I was technically imposing on them by attempting to survive in their living room. I met and fell in love with someone for the first time in my life, and yet I was broke and too scared to admit my feelings seeing as though I was penniless, jobless, and not worthy of someone who deserved someone better. This, of course, was my thought process at the time; confusion, bitterness, frustration, and once again, epic failure.
I didn’t move back home.
Of all of my previous failures while attempting to make this Hollywood life work, this particular failure was my biggest. I was approaching 30 and hadn’t yet achieved even a quarter of the success I expected to achieve, broke, both in the wallet and in the heart, and yet I didn’t move home again. Why? To this day, I can’t give a specific reason why, but it all goes back to this little script I had written over 13 drafts of and was then told it would never be made unless I wrote the novel version of it. Oddly enough, being stripped of just about everything in my life, I knew that there was still one thing that no one could take away from me. My writing.
My stories. My creativity. My drive.
And so I wrote a story about a teenage, broken-winged, five-inch tall fairy who felt the unending urge to prove herself to the world; to prove that she was just as capable, good enough, and worthwhile as everyone else. In the book, she ended up delivering true love to two people who desperately needed it, but to me, her creator, she allowed me to rediscover my own true love. Writing.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, or even if you have I’ll remind you, but the book is called The WishKeeper, and it went on to win the young adult category of the Los Angeles Book Festival, sign with a publisher for a three-book deal, and continue to be one of the most positive driving forces in my life. The main character’s name is Shea, and really, to you reading this book, you have her to thank for this becoming a reality. Over the past four years, my life has changed in ways I had never imagined. While I’m far from reaching the level of success I expect from my own writing career, I have achieved an expected level of success by way of my time and experience with the International Screenwriters’ Association (ISA) as their Director of Education and Outreach. I’ve assisted over ten writers in find representation and producers/companies to option their material, and I continue to push the work of other writers out around town as much as I can. Finding success for other people has become a bit of an addiction for me, but it’s an addiction I will never be sorry to have. It lead me to launch my own consulting company called The Story Farm, where my clients receive weekly support and feedback as well as industry access and help. My ongoing experiences with The Story Farm and the ISA is what lead me to decide to write this book. I’ve created so much educational material over the past few years through my online courses and live workshops, hosted hundreds of screenwriting events, and launched multiple podcast series, and I came up with this crazy idea that I should write a book and share what I’ve learned over the years, and what I teach my writers on a daily basis.
A lot of what I cover in the forthcoming chapters can be found through my solo podcast on the ISA website, but there is something about the written word and how our eyes and brain can soak in the words a bit easier than an audio version. It’s also a slightly more personal process as I firmly believe that we, as writers, have the unique ability to affect people in ways other creators do not. It’s our duty and responsibility, really, to inspire and inform, so I hope I am able to do such a thing for you with this book.
I feel that it’s important to note, before we begin, that this book is split into two parts. The first part is strictly devoted to how I break story not only structurally, but with a heavy emphasis on character development. I believe that even though there is a technical formula to writing a screenplay, it is in the evolution of your character that defines such a formula, which then allows the formula to no longer feel like one. While there are many different approaches to how to structure a screenplay, and many different consultants have approaches that are similar or entirely different than mine, I naturally gravitate toward the 12 sequence and 3 Act structure for a feature film. For TV and hour-long dramas, the general 5-Act structure is pretty standard and, really, TV itself is rather relative to the genre, length of the show, and the network, cable network, or online steaming network on which it may live. TV is a much different animal than the world of film, but in the end, every story no matter its length follows roughly the same beat structure. If you’ve read Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat”, then you likely know what I’m referring to, but I take a much closer look at character development and the how the choices of such characters fuel the logistical make-up of a screenplays structure.
The second part of this book is a series of chapters that offer advice, inspiration, and insight into the industry, the world of writing, and how you fit within it. Though not necessarily specific to the literal craft of writing, they are essential in terms of having an understanding of the process. This choice you are making to pursue screenwriting should not be one of whimsy or hobby. You are the creator of worlds. The catalyst for emotion, evolution, inspiration. You, the writer, dictate how someone feels. There is very real power here and you should not take it lightly. My best advice to you, before we begin and dive in to the upcoming chapters, is that you need to manage your expectations but without stifling your hope. If you can figure out what that means, you will come to a happy and healthy place not only in life, but throughout your screenwriting career. And a career is what we should all be pursuing.
I can only hope this book helps you, at least in one small way, to realize your career hopes and wishes. I’ll ask Shea to see if she can help.
Onward and upward.
Thank you for reading! If you would like to read the rest of Max Timm's book, (Not Just) Another Book on The Craft of Screenwriting, you can follow this link and order.
Keep working hard, and happy writing.