BOOK REVIEW – The Coffee Break Screenwriter Breaks the Rules: A Guide for the Rebel Writers by Pilar Alessandra
I’ll kick off with a disclaimer – I am by no means a screenwriter. I’ve had to write a few scenes for university, but other than that I’m very inexperienced. However, because of this, I somewhat relied on the mythic “rules” that author Pilar Alessandra refers to throughout this book. How I wish this book had fallen into my lap back then.
In a continuation of her previous book The Coffee Break Screenwriter, Alessandra addresses common misconceptions about the so-called, unspoken “rules” of screenplays. Whether you’ve heard it from a friend or a tutor, these “rules” are more of a complex set of Chinese-whispers on “What (not) to do” with no explanation as to why other than “Because that’s how it’s done.” Well, it’s time to dispel these myths, and no one does it quite as succinctly as Alessandra.
Similarly to the previous books I reviewed (including Getting It Done and Visual Storytelling) this book is targeted towards those starting out in their screenwriting careers, and is a great read for anyone new to writing for the screen. One of the most important points Alessandra stresses is the difference between “guidance” and “law” – and the only person reinforcing these “rules” is you. That being said, the book isn’t encouraging you to break all the rules, it merely attempts to prove that choosing to break even just one can change your story entirely. As Alessandra puts it:
“Rebel, but rebel gracefully”
Each “rule” of screenwriting has its own section complete with examples of well known scripts. Each “rule” that is addressed is punctuated with questions such as “Why it Exists?”, “Why Break It?” and “Who Broke it Best?” Unconsciously, you feel as if you are having a dialogue with the author herself as she reassures and answers your questions about these “rules”. She also addresses the common misconceptions in a True or False format, engaging you in the dialogue and using her experience to unpick the truth behind these urban myths of screenwriting.
This is also such a timely book in an age of #TimesUp, as Alessandra highlights the importance of not falling foul to tired cliches such as over-50 characters being men and dating younger women. Her book is another echo of the power of diversity within the creative industries to change the norms, and she encourages diversity and innovation throughout the writing process.
My initial impression of the book was how overwhelmingly easy it is to dip in and out of based on what area of your script you’re working on. The book refrains from huge portions of prose, and it’s question/answer structure portions the text into bite-size structures that lend themselves to reading on a coffee-break or a commute. Whether you’re struggling to conform to a certain structure or working on your character arc, this book will help you to think outside of the box and challenge your attitude when thinking about “norms” in screenwriting. This book is less about breaking the rules and more about questioning them before consigning yourself to them. The message I’ll be taking from this book is the need to question the reasoning behind your own creative decisions, and ensure that you’re making choices for the right reasons and exploring your creative freedom outside of the “rules.”
The book is available via Amazon here.
Getting It Done: The Ultimate Production Assistant Guide by Joshua A. Friedman
Visual Storytelling by Morgan Sandler