Book Review: Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays

photoScript editor and screenwriting tutor Lucy V. Hay has another book out, and this time, it’s all about drama screenplays.

As Hay herself is the first to admit, “drama” is a very slippery term in the world of film. Often it’s used just as a catch-all for any project that doesn’t have a specific genre. Even when properly defined, it covers everything from biopics and historical true stories to grim contemporary stories of sink estates and despairing teen mums (that last being a category she sees far too often in the submissions pile!)

But one of the most interesting points Hay makes is that this nebulous definition is actually freeing for the screenwriter. There are no tropes for drama, no set story conventions and structural plot points to hit. Drama lends itself to non-linear storytelling, and to portmanteau stories, more readily than other genres do. In other words, it’s a great place to experiment and to tell the story you really want to tell.

Another interesting feature of Hay’s book is that she takes the position that drama is a hard sell – harder to pitch, to market and to attract major stars to – and treats this as a positive. If your story is going to be hard to produce through the traditional route, why not try another route?

Building on this, she includes a number of case studies of US and UK films, both shorts and features, examining how they took unconventional routes to the screen. If you’re having difficulty getting noticed in the industry and are considering less conventional ways to built your career there are some good examples to follow here, whether you write drama or not.

And of course, drama (more than any other genre) lives and dies on its characters, and Hay digs into how you can use different character types in your screenplay. Crucially, she notes that a drama protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to have the transformative arc so beloved of Hollywood movies…

If you’re interested in writing drama, particularly for the UK film market, the book is a great overview of how this genre works, and how to make it work for you. Definitely a recommended read.

Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays, by Lucy V. Hay, is in the Creative Essentials series from Kamera Books (camera

Book Review: Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays

Slightly late on this one – Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays by Lucy V Hay came out a few  months ago, and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since… But finally, here we are!

Thrillers are one of the best genres for new writers to work in. They’re relatively cheap to make, can attract good audiences if the concept is strong enough, and well-written thriller roles can attract name actors.

Unfortunately, they’re also one of the hardest genres to write. They require a strong mastery of plot, but unless they have well-realised characters and original plot twists as well, they can fade into the thousands of other generic thrillers in your Netflix queue.

So what can we learn from Lucy V Hay to improve our chances as thriller writers?

The book starts with a definition of thrillers – an interesting one, actually, utilizing the “fight or flight” reflex as a primary reference. Hay then looks at the various sub-categories of the thriller, and common issues in spec thriller screenplays.

Where the book gets really interesting is in the characterization section. Hay addresses the overwhelmingly white, male, heterosexual nature of the thriller to date, pointing out that the white heterosexual male hero is often every bit as stereotyped as the female or gay characters. She points out that many thrillers only feature only one female character, as if being “the girl” was sufficient characterization for her, and as if having more than one female was somehow unnecessary. Then she takes an interesting look at atypical thriller characters, and how avoiding character clichés can strengthen your story.

The book then takes a look at writing the thriller screenplay, applying the usual structures and techniques in a specific thriller context. There’s good stuff here, especially if you’re not experienced at constructing and writing screenplays, but few of the structural pointers will be genuinely new to anyone to anyone who’s read other screenwriting guides.

Then there’s a section on getting the screenplay made – pitching, the workings of the industry, and a useful section on budget (it’s surprisingly hard for an inexperienced writer to tell what will be expensive and what won’t!) There’s also a useful section of writing resources and resources looking at the thriller.

So what’s the verdict?

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays is an excellent reference for anyone starting to write and thinking of beginning with a thriller. It’s also a good quick catch-up for anyone wanting to check up on the basics before their next screenplay – and the section on characterisation applies across pretty much every genre. So if thrillers are a subject of interest to you, take a look!

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays by Lucy V Hay, in the Creative Essentials series from Kamera Books  (kamerabooks.com)