Funny thing about books about writing – it’s very hard to tell the good ones from the lousy ones until you’ve already learned the basics the hard way – as with most things, no solution ever really sinks-in, unless you’re working hard enough to have experienced the problem it addresses.

Of course, when you hear about a book that is highly recommended by people who seem to make a lot more money than you, it’s tempting to have a look and see if there might be a useful clue or two in there.

I first read Syd Field’s “Screenplay” three decades ago – when a friend of mine was going to film school, and I was actively writing and cartooning (yes, film books are generally very helpful for graphic storytelling).

I do remember resenting his insistence upon a hard three-act structure at the time – but I must say, advising toward what has proven to work seems much less foolish now (because it is way easier to want-to create an original working-modality, than to actually achieve something new and worthwhile, attempting this vain goal).

Here’s the hilarious thing that I definitely did not catch the first time around – it’s not a terribly well-written book – which is a fantastic thing – and yes I’m serious. The techniques he recommends are sound and sensible – there’s a reason every writer’s-room in the world has a grid of file-cards for plotting – because once you mess around with that mess – feel the power of visualizing the whole thing at once as floating pieces in relative juxtaposition, you won’t surrender it.  But the fact that he is successful at his trade, without having to be a profound literary stylist, says – you can do it too – like very few other things could!

And yes – one can be super tightly structured and organized as above – three acts – with clear layers of supporting (underpinning, though untold) backstory, all neatly gridded-out and squared-away.

Or you can put in all the extra work needed to create a different world for your story – go totally wonky, metamorphic, surreal and dream-like, distorting absolutely everything you see before you into something recognizable, and yet also thoroughly absurd.

Just bloody-well have something to say and mean-it – that’s that real trick!

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