I like reading books on screenwriting as they teach you how to install the skeleton of story...have three acts, a clear premise based on conflict for the main character, someone or thing to fight against and you are away once you have chosen the genre. So in a western it’s the lone flawed hero against the cattle baron struggling to find his place between the call of the wild and the lure of the town as he fights his way to the big showdown before riding off in the sunset. Or in a horror film, it’s the lone victim and her family/friends trapped in the house on the hill fighting against evil sub-human monster who kills indiscriminately until finally defeat as the dawn of a new day breaks.
What Alternative Scriptwriting by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush does is to show the rules so you can break them. They give a detailed breakdown of 14 genres and how they use the individual building blocks before discussing such things as how to:
- mix and match genres and what works and what doesn’t;
- change structures so 4 Act or two Act stories;
- reframe the roles of passive/ active characters; and
- use tone or narrative voice.
Its not done in a dry way as the discussion is linked to case studies or comparisons of different Directors and international styles but it does help if you have seen the films or have them on DVD! The important thing is that they argue that screenwriting is part of the tradition of storytelling/writing and so need to draw on the full range. Its not a book to read if you want a how to layout a film script but it is one if you want to explore the narrative force of a book.
An interesting alternative take on genres and the film narrative is The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. He explores how the mythic Hero’s journey shapes plots and characterisation and so genres are merely different aspects of the journey. Again the rule is know the rules to break them.
So read both and enjoy the Saturday movie more but also check why the book works or doesn’t