Saturday, June 24, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all - contain at least one or two nuggets worth adding to an aspiring screenwriter's toolkit, most - if not all - seem to drop the ball and wind up wantonly misinterpreted messes that can be (at least partially) blamed for the perceived precipitous drop in the quality of studio films.

Now, that's if one believes there's been a precipitous drop in the quality of studio films.  On that topic, I am dubious.

However, there are absolutely screenwriting books (and their corresponding systems) that have left their indelible mark on the art of screenplay, and not necessarily for the better.  Syd Field, the godfather of screenwriting gurus, is of course the author of what has been the most prominent screenplay guide for most of the past four decades.  First published in 1979, his Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, was the first book that formally identified script structure for the masses.  It is arguable that most university screenwriting curricula stems from this book, though many classes and professors prefer other authors.  Regardless, Syd Field opened the door for the plethora of screenwriting gurus who followed, the most prominent of which would be Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, Linda Seger, and Blake Snyder.

Indeed, it is Blake Snyder who further revolutionized the guru field in 2005, with his ubiquitous Save the Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need.  In the book, Snyder identifies a template - replete with page ranges - of when certain things need to happen in a script.  The entire script is divided into a handful of obviously-named sections (such as "Dark Night of the Soul") that are designed to inform the writer of what he or she should be writing on what page.

Needless to say, things didn't end there, and in 2011, guru Todd Klick published a book which basically provides a page-by-page format of what a good script should look like.  I have, so far, resisted acquiring this book, but my curiosity has been piquing as of late, so I don't know how much longer I can hold out. 

At any rate, should you head to and search for "screenwriting" in their book section, you'll get a whopping 3,152 hits.

Three thousand, one hundred, fifty-two.

And one of those books, published in 2016, is Jill Chamberlain's The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting.  It is short, sweet, and... well... I dunno.

(In a weird twist of fate, I'm going to be attending a panel of Ms. Chamberlain's the day this blog post is published - Saturday, June 24 - but that's neither here nor there.)

The Nutshell Technique, in a nutshell, is essentially a checklist of eight points that Chamberlain claims are essential to a story's DNA.  And she explains those eight points over and over and over and over for over 150 pages when, really, 15 would have sufficed.  But, she is trying to sell books, so I can't really blame her for the attempt.

To be fair, quite a few of those pages are used to apply her eight points to familiar movies, although she repeats her examples over and over again, as well.

And while I am most certainly not praising the book, he theory seems to hold up well.  I have to admit that this is the first screenwriting book that I have not incessantly rolled my eyes in a very long time.  The nuggets in this one are sound, though I feel as though I should repeat (just once!) that those nuggets could have been as effectively explained in 10% of the page count.

Part of me greatly dislikes that her system deconstructs "good writing" into so simple a technique (perhaps the simplest I'm familiar with), but most of me recognizes that her system isn't as much a system as it is a checklist to be used on top of other systems (such as Syd Field's, whose system Chamberlain most often refers to).  Indeed, her nutshell contains no information regarding actual character development, implementations of antagonists or even obstacles, and is so beholden to Aristotle's basic concept that it seems to try to obviate many notions and theories of effective storytelling.

That stated, a great many aspiring writers will find Chamberlain's book and system useful, and I will certainly be taking a few notes from her.  What can I say?  Though she doesn't cover anywhere near enough of the storytelling process, of the areas she does cover, she's not wrong.

Rating: 9 (Style: 3 stars; Substance: 3 stars)

Sadly, I didn't learn anything from the book that would qualify this review to have a "Things I Learned" section.  Maybe that's saying something.  Maybe it isn't.

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