Blueprint for Screenwriting: A complete writer’s guide to story structure and character development

by Rachel Ballon (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, 2nd ed. 2005): 168pp, £22.99 (pbk), ISBN 0 8058 4923 8.

Reviewed by Debra Sheehan

Buy this book

I had been looking forward to reviewing this book, but quickly decided it was unlikely to be of much help to anyone but the most inexperienced beginner.

Inauspicious start

I spotted an error in the first sentence of the preface and, skipping forward, saw that this inauspicious start continued throughout the book, so I checked to see whether this was a vanity publication. Ballon's first book, apparently, was self-published, but this one wasn't. Nevertheless, it clearly has never been proofread, which hardly inspires much confidence in a book intended as a guide for budding writers.

Content-wise, it does little better. Ballon covers all the screenwriting basics – story structure, character development, dialogue, scene and act structure, outlines, treatments and format. However, she seems unable to decide between her own two personal hats – tutor of screenwriting workshops and private psychotherapist – and this leads to some very confusing advice for the reader. The whole ethos of Blueprint seems to be that writing is a form of therapy.

Killer bees

Ballon starts by telling the reader to base their writing on personal experience, to write what they know, but then bases the chapter on story structure on murder mysteries. Although she name-checks numerous successful Hollywood films to illustrate her points (while ignoring any that don't fit her rather prescriptive blueprint), there are only two concrete examples of scriptwriting – and one of those is a self-penned outline treatment for a horror story about killer bees!

Unsurprisingly, Ballon does much better in the chapters on characters' inner emotional arcs and archetypal characters, which are quite useful. There is also a handy checklist and exercises at the end of each chapter. Overall, though, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone wishing to develop their skills in screenwriting.

Reviews of other related skills guides All book reviews