Book Review: Screenwriting Tips, You Hack

Xander Bennett. Screenwriting Tips, You Hack. 150 Practical Pointers for Becoming a Better Screenwriter. Amsterdam: Focal Press, 2012. 210 pages.

I’ve never written a screenplay, but I still believe that Xander Bennett’s Screenwriting Tips, You Hack, has made me a better writer. I’m not being facetious here; Bennett’s book has given me a much better appreciation for techniques of screenwriting and helped me ask questions about how I write my still-non-screenplay work.Screenwriting Tips

It makes sense that a guy who’s trained to write so that script readers keep reading has produced a book that will keep you turning the pages. I understand that Bennett also writes a screenwriting blog, but since I’m just now starting to get interested in screenwriting, I haven’t seen it. So I approached this book with no preconceptions, outside of wanting to learn a little more about how people write screenplays.

Bennett divided Screenwriting Tips into 18 chapters, each covering a different element of the screenplay: structure, dialog, character, and specific mistakes are a few examples. He writes it from a mercifully practical perspective; you can sense that he’s got a deep love for movies and TV, but he doesn’t waste your time talking about theories of screenwriting. Instead, he just tells you how to do it.

There are actually more than 150 tips here, which makes you feel like you got something for nothing. Great marketing. And each of the tips will actually help you sharpen your writing. True, it’s not going to write your screenplay for you, and yes, you’re probably already doing all of these things if you’re a master screenwriter. But if you’re buying a book on screenwriting tips, you’re clearly not a master screenwriter. Bennett doesn’t show you any shortcuts, but he makes sure that you stay on the right road. That, in and of itself, makes the book worth it.

If you want a concrete example, I’ll throw one out there: “Screenwriting Tip #120: Don’t sabotage your own pacing by cutting directly from tense scenes to boring ones.” If you’re writing a script for the first time, you might have a feeling that the pacing is off, but this tip will tell you exactly what the problem might be.

I’ve yet to write a screenplay so I can’t say that Screenwriting Tips helped me cross the finish line, but it’s already made me a more intelligent movie and TV viewer–I’m picking up on a lot of what he’s saying in what I’m watching. Highly recommended.

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