Book Review – How To Write A Movie In 21 Days by Viki King

Title: How To Write A Movie In 21 Days
Author: Viki King
Format: Paperback
Written & Published: 1988

This book has a fairly accurate title, and aims to get you through the writing process of a feature length movie script in 21 days. As opposed to some other popular fast writing programs, such as No Plot? No Problem! with National Novel Writing Month, these 21 days also include three rounds of revision to complete a polished script, not just to produce a first draft that needs further work. The book is broken into three main sections: preparation, writing, and problem solving.

The preparation section has many exercises that are designed to help bring the initial outline of the movie into focus. No timeline is attached, but I was able to complete all of the exercises in a single day. King believes that all stories stem from particular life issues that we encounter at certain predictable times. I found this reiteration to be distracting, because I am violently opposed to anyone telling me what should be important in my life. While the point was made to draw deeply from within, the assumed predictability was irritating.

Writing for the 21 days of this book is at a fast but achievable pace. One of the best aspects of the first draft is that King sets time limits on how long a given assignment can take. No writing day includes more than 30 pages initially, and there is a strict 3 hour time limit to getting it finished. King recommends breaking down the writing sessions to 8 minute sections, and getting a single scene or page done at a time. The idea behind this approach is that you should have enough time to get it finished without having enough time to procrastinate or panic. As the drafts progress, larger sections of the work are revised per day.

Day 21 was the only day I struggled with. This is the day where you find two people – who you are not allowed to live with – to go over the script and give you feedback. Unless I misunderstood entirely, you sit with them while they read it so that you can ask each other questions while they progress. I don’t know about your friends, but this represents a major hurdle with most of mine.

In the final section of the book are brief chapters about common problems writers encounter. These chapters have the feel of wisdom gained from being there and having made the same mistakes countless times. Practical, pragmatic approaches are prevalent, and there is a refreshing lack of judgement. This book does not come from the Cup-Of-Concrete school of philosophy, instead taking a gentler and empowering approach.

While the method outlined in the book is effective, the constant references to typewriters jarred me as I read it. The 21 days even includes time for you to retype the script, and maximum permitted delays to hire a professional typist are clearly defined. One of the problem solving chapters even suggests ways to barter with bored secretaries to type things for you. I can recall only a single mention of using a computer in the book, and it seems to have been included as an addition to the sentence rather than a recommendation.

Despite being aimed at beginner script writers, I question how many novices would be able to produce a polished script within the program. However, if you are only using this book as a way to get yourself through the trauma of a first and second draft, it provides a solid framework for writing something that can be developed further. Intermediate and experienced writers would probably have a solid script by the end of the timeframe. I rate this book 4 out of 5 pages.

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