# Good source for learning to write screenplays?

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I've been working on a game for a while (demo to be released shortly), but I know my weak suit is the writing. My wife is a writer (novelist), and I nag her about things from time to time, or ask her for books to read and such. Recently I asked her about a writing workshop and if she though it would help me - her answer surprised me.

She said she didn't think it would, because I'm not writing a novel. She said I'm really writing a screenplay. I thought about that for a while and I think she's right - granted, it's an interactive screenplay, but a game is generally a story told almost entirely through dialog and visuals, not narrative and exposition.

So I'm asking all you wonderful people if you've had any experience with this, and are there any resources you've found helpful to you?

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There are screenplay writer's workshops too, and screenplay writers' critique circles.

It is generally agreed that game scripts most closely resemble movie scripts and comic book scripts, though game scripts are really their own thing.  Novels and screenplays do share many of the foundations of writing - theme, premise, character arc, plot arc.  Some screenplays and games (and comics/graphic novels, which are closely related to storyboards) do use narration, but it's not the most popular or fashionable choice, and visuals will always need to carry the bulk of the exposition, as well as information about character's emotions.  Some games also contain prose short stories and anecdotes as lore.  Item descriptions are a common place to find this kind of thing.  Basically, the only significant place the various kinds of long-format fiction (including games) differ is at the surface level where you are actually putting words together into a script.

So the question is, what aspect of writing do you want to learn or practice?  If you're looking at actual word choice, you can't learn that from a book (unless you need to improve your basic grammar).  For that kind of thing you need to produce pages of script and get critique on them.  But if you want to study any of the deeper aspects, there are a variety of books I could recommend depending on what particular aspect you want to study.

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So the question is, what aspect of writing do you want to learn or practice? If you're looking at actual word choice, you can't learn that from a book (unless you need to improve your basic grammar). For that kind of thing you need to produce pages of script and get critique on them. But if you want to study any of the deeper aspects, there are a variety of books I could recommend depending on what particular aspect you want to study.

Grammar I've got down, and I think I do alright when it comes to writing _A_ conversation. Stringing those conversations together to keep an arc going, particularly when the main character is transitioning from one sub-plot to the next, is where I have trouble: To my ears those conversations sound either contrived or not 'real' in some way.

I'm using a 2D engine, which limits the visual cues I can give, though I try to work with what I've got: reading from a bookshelf, examining a spot mentioned by an NPC, a temple divided on the inside to show the divide of religions in the town. I can't hang Chekov's Gun on a wall, though.

I don't have the book anymore, so I can't give an exact quote, but in the opening of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, Thomas is asked by a 'man', "If you found yourself in a world you knew to be not real, would you fight to save it, anyway? That is the heart of morality." The main character (Sofia) who has lived her whole life in a small mining town in the mountains (Pleroma), releases a Bad Thing(tm) into the world. Finding no help in the village, she (with her companions) then descends into the world to warn them.

No one will hear her voice: they cling to prophecies, the stability of government, and religious institutions, each of which successively fails and falls.

Act I, "The Failure of Men" is primarily 'limited by geography'. You travel from region to region: a bridge, a mountain pass, a boat (which opens up some choice), until you find yourself at the 'heart' of the continent. The big battle ensues, the good guys lose, the 'hero' is killed, and you end up fleeing for your life while the world around you is being consumed by evil.

Enter Act 2, "The Search for Truth", where you find out that everything you thought you knew has been completely twisted (The 'big bad' didn't start out that way). In fact most of the people here are more than ok with your home continent being destroyed. While these people trust in 'the truth', Sofia's words fall on deaf ears. The Truth fails to offer any protection, and this land, too is destroyed.

Cue Act 3, "Just Us". In Zulu (starring a young Michael Caine), a frightened soldier asks the color sergeant, "Why? Why is it us?"  "Because we're here, lad; and nobody else. Just us."  The only thing that hasn't failed is you. And so you start your personal battle and the long voyage home.

I've got the timeline for Act 1 done, and the key conversations scripted - but those are like snapshots. Filling in the spaces is where I falter. I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from the Xenosaga Trilogy (a cinematic game if ever there was one) as well as "The Pistis Sophia", and trying to stay away from the Baldur's Gate, Star Wars, Sword of Shanarra script (or at least the obvious appearance of that script) as much as I can.

I hope somewhere in there I managed to get something across that you can use to point me in a good direction. Maybe this is a case of "I don't know what I don't know."  I do know something is missing in the details though. Yes, they have to cross the mountain to meet the king in denial while his lands rot around him, but I need a more convincing reason than 'You've done all there is to do on this side', or worse 'You've outleveled all the critters in this area, please proceed to the next hub to resume grinding XP', and 'Go to the next monarch on your list' seems to fall rather flat: the initial premise being that no king will risk acting alone, but if you can convince enough of them...

I'm reading 'The Writer's Journey' by Christopher Vogler (the story of  the hero and the archetypes along the way).and she's given me Worlds of Wonder and a complete Fantasy Reference. I just went in to see if she had anything else I should mention and I found a little book ('Elements of Fiction Writing') on Scene and Structure she'd been holding out on me

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I should take a photo of my bookshelf, lol.  I've got the writer's journey book and the scene and structure book too.  Hmm, actually I will do that (photo attached).  I rotated it so they are easier to read, though some still probably have glare on them.  In addition to these I have some ebooks: Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story and Dramatica For Screenwriters.  And I'm sure there were lots of good books I read from a library and haven't gotten a shelf copy of.  Feel free to ask me about anything in the photo, whether you can't read the title or you want to know what it's about.  (The ones behind the dragon knicknacks aren't relevant.)

Of these books, Story by McKee is the one I recommend for anyone who hasn't yet delved much into writing theory.  It's basically a survey course of all the aspects of writing theory (specifically screenwriting) that were current at the time it was published.  There have been some innovations since then but it's still a good way to learn the basic "lay of the land" and discover keywords that can lead you to more in-depth books about various topics which catch your interest.

Just as an aside, the Thomas Covenant books are generally regarded as being pretty badly written. *sweatdrop*  No insult intended or anything.  But as fantasy novels go, their technical aspects are regarded as being like a C-.

[attachment=20662:writingbooks.jpg]

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Wow... it's scary how many of those books I recognize... I bought my wife Tarot for Writers a couple Christmas' ago. 20 Master Plots, the Romance books, Emotional Structure... Now I wonder if the two of you know each other - she moderates at least one on-line writer's circle thing I know.

Thomas Covenant I read over 20 years ago, and I still remember the story - both trilogies. I think that says something for them.  The Sword of Shanarra - let's see, the reluctant hero's "journey" begins on what? Paragraph 2? I remember reading that book, knowing how popular it was, and realizing just how much you could cut back to basics and still have a decent story. Or maybe it was a bad story that everybody loved and paid money for anyway... North Land, South Land, East Land, West Land ... it doesn't get much more original than that.

My creative writing back in high school (this is way back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the internet) was in a writer's workshop with Stephen King. He kept stressing that you need to go out and find stuff that people are paying money for, and tell yourself "I know I can do better than that!".  I think that applies to gaming as well as horror novels.

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Hehe.  Nothing really special about that overlap of collections; my photo represents about 1/3 of ALL the English-language how-to-write books, so any similar collection would probably have a lot of overlap.  Though if your wife is a member at the absolutewrite forums I might know her vaguely by her username.

I can't say I'm personally a fan of the Sword of Shanarra either; I asked my housemate and he referred to it as "the first gush of the the flood of extruded fantasy product".  But, as far as fantasy novel examples of the hero's journey and high fantasy, you should probably just ignore me, because it's a fact that I'm biased against high fantasy and heroic journey stories.  I really like comedic fantasy, fantasy romance novels, and science fantasy.  The closest thing to a heroic journey that I actually really like would be one of the Jim Henson movies Labyrinth or Mirror Mask.  Labyrinth would fall apart if one tried to analyze it, but Mirror Mask is quite strong technically and would be a good example to analyze.  I do like Vogler's writer's journey book, though his fans *cough*cultists*cough* that insist that the hero's journey underlies all fiction drive me up a wall; even he himself recanted that position in the introduction to the second edition.

Me personally, I belong to the structuralist school of fiction theory which emerged from Aristotle's Poetics and Claude Levi-Strauss' structural analysis of myth, and has had modern developments added by books like Cynthia Joyce Clay's Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama.  Everything except the Poetics is high-level stuff I wouldn't really recommend to a beginner though.  Instead, of the books in the photo there, Story Physics, Story Engineering, and Blueprint Your Bestseller are all pretty awesome if you're interested in structure and designing or revising it.  Blueprint Your Bestseller has a lame title but it's actually a pretty wise analysis of the Ugly Duckling folktale and how to revise a partial or complete manuscript or screenplay to have a lean and powerful structure that clearly expresses a theme.

For people wanting to learn about theme, the one I recommend to start with is Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing; it's a fairly old book but clearly puts forth the idea of "what is the thematic premise of a story?".  The next thing on my list to recommend would be the Dramatica stuff, but it's necessary to take that with a lot of grains of salt.  Dramatica has its own little cult quite parallel to the hero monomyth cult, and both of them have about 2/3 useful material and 1/3 delusions of grandeur that could hobble a writer who tried to take it as gospel.

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