Introduction To Toolbox
For my doctoral thesis at the Berlin Technical Institute (Technische Universität Berlin) I set up an experiment. The idea was to find out which of the most cited screenwriting how-to books (according to Google Scholar) had the best and most efficient advice.
I put each of the following books to a tough test. What actionable advice did it contain?
- Aristotle – The Poetics
- Gottfried E. Lessing – The Hamburg Dramaturgy
- Gustav Freytag – Technique of the Drama
- Gottfried Mueller – Dramaturgy of the Theater and the Film
- Semjon Frejlich – The Dramaturgy of the Film
- Lajos Egri – The Art of Dramatic Writing
- Syd Field – Screenplay. The Foundations of Screenwriting
- Christopher Vogler – The Writer’s Journey
- Robert McKee – Story
- Linda Seger – Making a good Script Great
The result was an ordered list of work instructions on the topics of brainstorming, plot construction, scene construction, dialogue and script revision.
I have called it THE TOOLBOX.
Students were given a writing task (a draft for a television movie, an episode of a crime TV show, an episode for a family drama TV show). Students were divided into groups of 4-6 people.
I exposed each group to one set of rules. I invited the executives of the TV series and series of T movies to evaluate the outcome.
500 students went through the process, 120 outlines were evaluated. The evaluation results were merged with data derived from student’s feedback about the writing process. From this a ranking of rules emerged according to their contribution and usability.
The result is now available to you. Below you will find 10 downloadable documents. Each one contains the essential tools extracted from one of the books mentioned earlier.
The idea is of course not to replace the books. The TOOLBOX gives you fast and easy access to some of the best advice on screenwriting ever given. You will find that you relate more to one or two of these amazing teachers, to how they talk about screenplays and writing. In this case you have found your master. You should go and buy the book and start your journey into writing.
If you want instead to go the fast route, check out our Services. We will give you the right advice, taken from those books, at the right time and in the right shape and form so that you understand what needs to be done to make your screenplay ready to be sent out into the world.
Download Your Tools
ARISTOTLE AND CHINATOWN
400 A.D. – publisher unknown
“..The noble ones imitate good deeds and those of good ones, but the ordinary ones imitate those of the bad ones.”
What are Aristotle’s rules for writing?
Do these 2400 year old rules still apply?
How to translate Aristotle’s terminology in today’s language?
Who are these rules for?
What kind (genre) of story to expect if you follow his rules?
G.E. LESSING AND CHINATOWN
The Hamburg Dramaturgy – 1767 – Reclam jun. GmbH & Co., Stuttgart
“Because nothing is great that is not true.”
Why a great critic is also a great teacher?
Why did Lessing have it in for French theater writers?
What did he have to say about the nexus of society and drama?
Why it is worth taking a look at contemporary movies through Lessing’s eyes?
Why Lessing would have loved Chinatown?
GUTAV FREYTAG AND CHINATOWN
Die Technik des Dramas von Gustav Freytag – 1886 – Verlag S.Hirzel, Leipzig
“He [the poet] thinks he is driving his figures, but he is secretly driven by them.”
How one writer single handedly revitalized the landscape of German drama.
How “character-driven” became the battle cry of an entire generation of writers.
Meet the man who invented the visuals of play structure that we still use today.
Why nobody ever described a plot point better than Gustav Freytag?
Why Freytag introduced the dreaded “m-word” (morale) into the catechism of writers?
Why Freytag would have hated Chinatown?
GOTTFRIED MUELLER AND CHINATOWN
Dramaturgie – 1942 – Konrad Riltsch Verlag, Würzburg
“The beginning has to burst into the exposition like a bomb, the middle has to be the climax and the end a release.”
What warfare and scriptwriting have to do with each other.
How this man discovered the secret sauce of Hollywood and involuntarily helped the Nazis to almost create their own.
The birth of the action movie through Aristotle reimagined.
Why the right ratio of fate to doom is a life saver for writers.
How the plot became just another character of the story.
LAJOS EGRI AND CHINATOWN
The Art of Dramatic Writing – 1946 – Verlag Simon & Schuster, New York
“The premise is the seed that grows into a plant that was contained in it, no more and no less.”
Why you will never ask again ‘why do I need to write that darn backstory?’ after reading Egri’s rules.
How every story is part of another story that started long ago.
Why did it take 2364 years to effectively contradict Aristotle?
Why does it need an equation with three known unknowns to write a good story?
SEMJON FREILICH AND CHINATOWN
Die Dramaturgie des Films – 1964 – Henschelverlag Berlin (DDR)
“The drama must represent the conflicts of life, otherwise it is not drama.”
The birth of Neorealism and the social drama.
Why communism was bad for storytelling.
How your plot can reveal your political affiliation.
Why Soviet writers dreamt of writing a never ending drama.
Why society can never be the hero and revolution can never be a plotpoint.
SYD FIELD AND CHINATOWN
Screenplay. The foundations of Screenwriting – 1979 – Dell Publishing, New York
“Writing is the ability to ask yourself questions and get the answers.”
Why it took Syd Field 2000 scripts to understand what was missing in all but 40?
Why the “want” vs “need” dichotomy is still one of the most powerful tools?
Why it took the Paradigm of three acts to discover that there were really four of them.
Why Syd Field was puzzled by Chinatown and went to investigate.
CHRISTOPHER VOGLER AND CHINATOWN
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – 1992 – Michael Wiese Productions
“The generic term for a handful of recurring components that we come across again
and again in myths, fairy tales, dreams and films is: the hero’s journey.”
Why Christopher Vogler was at one time suspected to be a Soviet secret agent.
Why psychology had to be invented before this book could be written.
How Vogler can help you through the “40-mile-desert” of the second act and what you will find on the other side.
Why only this book can explain what the difference between film and real life is.
ROBERT MCKEE AND CHINATOWN
Story von Robert McKee – 1997 – Harper Collins Publishers, New York
“Story is a metaphor for life.”
What a performing artist knows about storytelling.
Why 95% of our movies today owe big time to a small actors studio in NYC.
What is the smallest element of storytelling ever discovered?
How the entire world fits into a triangle.
Why you should always toss all your dialogue ideas before you start writing.
LINDA SEGER AND CHINATOWN
Making a good Script Great – 1987 – Samuel French Trade
“As is the case with every other art form, the same holds true for scriptwriting: In the beginning, there is chaos.”
How could you possibly add more character types to Chris Vogler’s many archetypes?
Why did it take a woman to discover one of the most overlooked elements of good writing?
Why does the midpoint so often become the first plotpoint after a thorough revision?
Why should the myth stay out of the game before a writer has written their first draft?
How Chinatown teaches us that no story is instantly great.