Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Story can beat up Your Story by Jeffrey Schechter

This book on the writing craft by Jeffrey Alan Schechter has countless reasons to recommend it. It's written for writers of screenplays, but I believe novelists can get a lot out of it as well. In ten lessons, he tells why screenplays, and I would add, probably novels, often fail to sell.

The book is entirely about structure. His beliefs about structure aren't so different from many of the books I've read on the subject, however his explanations are more succinct and understandable than most.

Take theme, for example. I've been reading about theme for years and have never fully understood it. Now, I think I just might. Here's a paraphrased sample, without his screenplay-specific examples, of what Jeffrey has to say about it:

Heroes ask questions. 
Villains make arguments. 
Ultimately, the hero and audience discover that, as compelling as the villain’s arguments may be, he’s not only wrong, but it’s his wrong thinking that leads to his downfall in act 3.

In Act 1: We see how broken the villain is because of his belief. This section is a full statement of the thematic argument, which is the exact opposite of the hero’s belief about a compelling issue in his life.

Act 2: Part 1: The thematic question in action. The hero will be propelled on a journey by trying to disprove the thematic argument. It’s a testing of the hero’s power of his convictions.

Act 2: Part 2: The thematic question versus thematic argument. The two worldviews to clash like never before. The hero is leading toward certainty about how far he is willing to go in order to gain the story goal. (Not the plot goal, which is the external goal, but the story goal, which is always about relationships.) 

Act 3: The thematic synthesis. It’s the equivalent of asking, “Why can’t we just all get along?” The hero learns we can, but only if he’s willing to synthesize the thematic question with the thematic argument and synthesize a new belief about the significant issue in his life. He’s become a better person because of it.  

In one sentence: A clean question (hero’s) with the counter argument (villain or antagonist’s) results in a synthesis of both, and a new belief about the world.   

Does theme stump you, as it has me, for many years? Or did you finally figure it out? If you did, what most helped you to understand? If you didn't, go buy, order, or download this book. For the value of this lesson and the rest, it's worth its weight in gold. 


  1. I am always looking for a good book to help me teach and hone my own craft of writing. I will definitely find a copy of my own!

    I so appreciate your recent email. It is nice to be missed :) - but I am anxious to get back into the game.

  2. Oh had me at your post title and thank you for the lead...I'm going to be getting a copy for myself!

  3. Glad you're back, Molly.
    Sush, you won't regret buying a copy.


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