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Book review: Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays by Lucy V. Hay

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I couldn’t wait to read this book, so much so that I bought it on the first day at London Screenwriters’ Festival, took it home and then failed to bring it back for Lucy’s book signing. DOH!

But seriously, I love drama screenplays. Drama is what I personally am most drawn to writing; stories that explore human psyche and emotions. So I was thrilled to discover a book dedicated to this very topic. It’s a category of film that gets less coverage than it deserves, so this book was a really great read.

The book is structured in sections, focussing on different ways of looking at and approaching drama screenplays. All the usual stuff is covered as per the promise made on the title – we get information on how to write drama screenplays and how to sell them. But rather than being purely a how-to book, it’s a study in its own right on the scope of drama screenplays/movies and what works/what doesn’t. Lucy’s insights as a script editor and film-maker/collaborator offer us a unique insight from all angles.

After each section, Lucy recaps the “write tips”; what we’ve learned from each topic of discussion. This helps clarify what we’ve learnt and also reminds us of what we learnt earlier on, because Lucy draws on the key points and tips several times throughout the book in order to give us a good grounding in how to do this drama-writing malarkey well.

I found the case studies particularly enjoyable. Lucy hand-picked them and really uses them well to help illustrate points made in each section. Her breakdowns of the approach and the structure of each of the case study films offers a unique insight into the mind of a script editor but also how investors and directors might react. The writers and producers of the case studies offer their advice too.

The info-packed but friendly way Lucy has written the whole book makes it so easy for all the advice to effortlessly sink in. I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about how Lucy was so impressed by “Hours” that she tweeted the writer-director and ended up striking up an email conversation about the script to screen process.

Another really interesting point that was brought up via anecdotes is how distribution methods can be misleading. Hours’s DVD cover makes it look like a thriller, but isn’t approached that way. Lucy spoke of how she watched Stepmom because it was marketed as a comedy, but it was actually a drama involving a character with cancer – something Lucy wouldn’t have opted to watch otherwise. Yet, with both these films, Lucy discovered she really liked them despite the misleading nature. So, despite the deviousness of marketing, we can at least appreciate that viewers who might not have watched them are given the chance to appreciate these stories.

There’s so much more packed into the pages of this book than you would first imagine. It’s easy to consider drama screenplays as the “easy” option or the option that doesn’t need much thought to its execution, but Lucy goes into writing style tips as well as how to restructure structure (non-linear approaches) in order to tell a story in a better way (if needed).

I highly recommend this book for all writers; not just those who write dramas. There’s a lot to take away from this book about the industry regardless of genre. Get it HERE.

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