A Quick Guide to Screenwriting
by Ray Morton

A Quick Guide to Screenwriting is exactly that. It’s small, just 100 pages.

A beginner to the craft of screenwriting will get a good deal out of this book, which lays out all basic precepts simply and clearly. You would do well to be familiar, before reading it, with the films that Morton references frequently: Star Wars, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, Casablanca, Die Hard and a few more. (The Guide is so ‘quick’ it does not even mention the names of the screenwriters of these famous scripts.)

What don’t you get? Depth and nuance, as you might expect, remain off screen. Morton will not be analyzing foreign films or even American indie films. His breakdown of the standard three act structure, the topic of many long screenwriting books, here occupies six pages.

There is not an ounce of unconventional wisdom in the Quick Guide, and some bad chestnuts make an appearance. “Do not write specific shots.” “Do not indicate music.” There are many times and cases where these kind of soft rules are made to be broken. Morton also recommends some weird (to me) choices in terms of formatting for montages and intercutting. A beginning writer would be better off acquiring ten screenplays off the Black List to see what actual fresh screenwriters are doing in terms of formatting.

Morton, a paid script reader, recommends paid script reading services. Many working screenwriters (John August and Craig Mazin, come to mind) do not endorse these services. To Morton’s credit, he acknowledges that some of these services are not reputable and prey upon na├»ve writers.

Overall, I can recommend this book for people with short attention spans who just want to get the gist and start writing. That’s not a bad strategy. Aspiring directors, producers and development executives might also get something from the book, so long as they realize the wisdom it offers is vanilla and, in some cases, out-dated.