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Though I hold bachelor’s degrees in both film and English, most of what I learned about screenwriting—and fiction writing in general—came in the form of a decade-long “crash course” at the School of Hard Knocks (admission is easy; tuition’s a killer).  Reading and writing screenplays was the first critical step—I consciously studied formatting and unconsciously absorbed form—but gazing at a painting no more demystifies the esoteric art of illustration than listening repeatedly to a song uncloaks the “magic” of musical composition.  Command of craft in any art form, writing included, demands discipline—the skilled use of tools that can be summoned at will—and for that, I turned to the many, many screenwriting how-to books that seem to have flooded the marketplace since the Nineties.

But, why spend time reading about writing when the best way to improve is “practice, practice, practice,” right?  After all, many folks—including, in no small numbers, pro screenwriters—have dismissed the merits of so-called “screenwriting bibles” and “gurus,” and, indeed, few of them bring any new insights to the conversation.  But, the practice of deconstructing the principles of literature and drama goes at least as far back as 335 BCE with Poetics—a respected and lasting treatise on literary theory by any metric—and, as Aristotle seems to have suspected, the meticulous study of narrative patterns and mythic archetypes offers a foundation for the codification of techniques—the building blocks of craft.
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