Book Review: “Screenwriting Tips, You Hack”

A good book review is itself a work of art. The following review will show you what we mean. (As well as giving you a terrific sense of the book being discussed. We’re clicking over to Amazon to buy it right now.)

by Henry Sheppard

41qoKRdD0UL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve read a lot of screenwriting advice books. They come in a range of styles and vary in value from dubious to priceless. One of the recent additions to the canon is Xander Bennett‘s Screenwriting Tips, You Hack: 150 Practical Pointers for Becoming a Better Screenwriter.
 Xander was a script reader, working for a minor production company in Los Angeles, when he became frustrated by the quality of the screenplays he was reading. He tweeted his complaints until someone told him he should put them in a blog. So he moved to publishing the Screenwriting Tips… You Hack blog as “a snarky diatribe.” Since 2009 he has posted a tip a day on how to make spec scripts better. His first tip reads:

Don’t be boring. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T BE BORING. Tape it to your laptop. Tape it to your eyeballs. Don’t. Be. Boring.

Good advice, I thought. (Actually, it was a rule invoked by Billy Wilder in each of his various writing partnerships. Or, more accurately, his two rules were “Thou Shalt Not Bore” and “Anything is Permitted” — Lally, Wilder Times, but that’s a digression.)

The book surprised me. I wasn’t expecting much more than a selection of Tips from the blog; updated perhaps, and maybe with a dazzling index. Instead it is a screenwriting manual, written from a coaching perspective, rather than the usual dry, by-the-numbers reworking of Syd Field. And it does have an index. Thank you, Xander. (That’s one of my chief gripes with the Blake Snyder books, and others: no index.)

 When I read a book, I tend to use the yellow highlighter to mark interesting passages. (And I dog-ear the page corners, too. Sorry, book-Nazis. I figure I paid for the book and if I want to find that important quote quickly, I need a little sign. You can pray for me, but I’m afraid the habit runs deep.) I probably went through more yellow ink, and left more dog-eared corners, on this book that any other I’ve read all year.

His very best stuff (in my opinion) emerges from his inside knowledge as a script reader in Hollywood. The section on writing query letters and pitching is easily the best I’ve come across. Simple, crystal clear, obviously true, and wildly divergent from much of the waffle I’ve encountered on the subject. If you buy the book for that alone, your money will have been well spent. But don’t get the idea that’s the only good stuff in there, it’s not. This book is uniformly good….

Read it all at Adelaide Screenwriter Blog