A Poetics for Screenwriters



“This is a brilliant, all-encompassing work. I cannot recall a book on screenwriting which delves so deeply into the art and antecedents of screenwriting. Aristotle himself would, no doubt, congratulate Lance Lee. However, without waiting for the great Greek’s response, put me down as `Bravo!’ ” – William Froug, author of Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade and Zen and the Art of Screenwriting 2

Writing successful screenplays that capture the public imagination and richly reward the screenwriter requires more than simply following the formulas prescribed by the dozens of screenwriting manuals currently in print. Learnihg the “how-to’s” is important, but understanding the dramatic elements that make up a good screenplay is equally crucial for writing a memorable movie. In A Poetics for Screenwriters, veteran writer and teacher Lance Lee offers aspiring and professional screenwriters a thorough overview of all the dramatic elements of screenplays, unbiased toward any particular screenwriting method.

Lee explores each aspect of screenwriting in detail. He covers primary plot elements, dramatic reality, storytelling stance and plot types, character, mind in drama. spectacle and other elements, and developing and filming the story. Relevant examples from dozens of American and foreign films, including Rear Window, Blue, Witness, The Usual Suspects, Virgin Spring, Fanny and Alexander, The Gadfather, and On the Waterfront, as well-as from dramas ranging from the Greek tragedies to the plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen, illustrate all of his points.

This new overview of the dramatic art provides a highly useful update for all students and professionals who have tried _to adapt the principles of Aristotle’s Poetics to the needs of modern screenwriting. By explaining “why” good screenplays work, this book is the indispensable companion for all the “how-to” guides.

Lance Lee is the coauthor of The Understructure 0f Writing for Film and Television. He has taught screenwriting at California State University, Northridge, since 1981.

Also of interest

The Understructure of Writing for Film and Television
By Ben Brady and Lance Lee

“This book is written out of tirst hand experi ence; the words of an old pro. It sticks to practical reality without smothering the quest for creativity with arbitrary rules; the authors respect the artist as well as the craftsman. I recommend it without reservation? – Frank Pierson


[P]laying, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Hamlet, Hamlet, III, 2

[Slometimes the little world succeeds for a moment in reflecting the big world, so that we understand it better. Or is it perhaps that we give the people who come here the chance of… forgetting for a while the harsh world outside.

Dear, splendid actors and actresses, we need you all the same. It is you who give us our supernatural shudders and still more our mundane amusements. Oscar, then Gustav Adolf, Fanny and Alexander


Introduction https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

I. Context https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. The Fundamental Story Pattern https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. The Creative Root https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Drama’s Continuity https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Film and Dramaturgy https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

5. Audience Relations https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

II. Primary Plot Elements https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. Screenplay Defined https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Where Stories Come From https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. The Nature of Conflict https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Location, Scene, Sequence https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

5. Starting Stories: Establishing Character and Conflict https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

6. Starting Stories: Choosing Material and Treatment https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

7. Backstory, Preparation, and Exposition https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

8. Complication, Major Reverse, Minor Reverse https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

9. Discovery and Its Types https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

10. The Dramatic Obstacle, Change and Suspense https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

11. The Beginning: Development of the Dramatic Problem https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

12. The Middle: Development to the Crisis https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

13. The End: Climax and Resolution https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

14. Revelation, Clarity, Truth https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

III. Dramatic Reality https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. Emotions Make Real https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Identification, Empathy, Sympathy and Fascination https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Story, Dramatic, and Running Times https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Cause and Effect: Immediacy and Meaning https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

5. Necessary and Probable https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

6. Irrational Improbable Elements https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

IV. Storytelling Stance and Plot Types https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. The Action: Point of Attack https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Plot Complexity, Types, Variation, and Magnitude https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Dramatic Unity: Relating Subplots and Parallel Plots https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Typical Story Patterns https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

5. Narration, Flashback, Fragmented Action https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

6. Exceptions https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

V. Character https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. Sources and Types https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Force, Consistency, Change, Truth https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Defining Character https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Building and Revealing https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

VI. Mind in Drama https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. Ideas and Innovation https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Theme in Action https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. What Structure Is For https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Creating Values and Moral Urgency https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

VII. Spectacle and Other Elements https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. Spectacle and Special Effects https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Music and Sound Effects https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Dialogue https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Symbol and Metaphor https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

5. Dramatic Irony https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

6. Comedic Turns https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

7. Adaptation https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

VIII. Developing and Filming the Story https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

1. How Stories Really Develop https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

2. Premise, Treatment, Stepsheet, Storyboard https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

3. Production Facts of Life https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

4. Last Things: Manuals, Formats, and Perseverance https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

Notes https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png

Screenplay Author List https://i2.wp.com/www.phanxineblog.com/ebook/eng.png


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