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You reach a point when you’re eating when your mind and stomach are at odds. Am I still hungry? You’re stuck, however momentarily, at a crossroads. Which do I listen to—the stomach or the brain?

Consumption of entertainment provokes a similar state of being stuck. That slow moment has arrived. Time to unwrap the candy. But you’re not really hungry. Your brain is just looking for something to do. And it’s usually at the Act 2 talk-it-to-death point: Exposition or repetitive conflict or conflict the writer thought was clear but apparently wasn’t to the actors and director. There’s nothing going on but talking, and it goes on forever.

I usually sigh really loud and grab my phone in an attempt to make the time spent avoiding addressing the problems in my writing a little less painful.

Act Deux Do or Doodoo

But sometimes I suck it up and think about how to fix Act 2. I’ve binge-listened to approximately 90 episodes of Pilar Alessandra’s On The Page podcast, and I can pinpoint exactly which episode and where guest Paul Guyot says that most people can churn out a great first act, but it’s the second act that shows the true merits of a writer.

I can pinpoint this because I’ve re-listened to many episodes. And because I can say that some of the things Alessandra and Guyot have said transformed my writing. And because it’s clear that both know how to un-stick getting stuck in the second act.

And wouldn’t you know that the point where Guyot talks about the Page 69 rule is at the exact midpoint of episode 394?

So there I was, stuck after the first complication of the second act, and Alessandra’s book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter, arrives in the mail.

I read it. I got stuck. I got stuck on page 2. And on page 3. And on page 4. But the ingredients on the pages fed my brain, and ultimately, my script. There was plenty of shoving food in my mouth, but I was actively engaged in the concepts of the book while doing so. This was exactly what I needed. How I wish it arrived sooner than five days before the writer program deadlines.

The exercises and structure tests in the book inspire you to stick to its pages for ten minutes or longer, pondering your script and the components Alessandra details that could make it stronger.

Because Alessandra will be teaching a master class at ScriptFest, aka Great American Pitch Fest 2015, I am departing temporarily from my scripts to post an early blurb about her book and the few pages I’ve read.

The Fucking Point

What’s clear at the get-go is that The Coffee Break Screenwriter doesn’t mire itself in gobbledygook or intangible, voodoo-ish concepts. It doesn’t purport to revolutionize screenwriting. It gets right to the fucking point. And gets the reader/writer to the fucking point as well.

Look how simply Alessandra phrases what she terms “The Main Character Flaw Brainstorm”:

 

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See that tag at the bottom? She says, “may.” Not “must.” It’s an option. That was page 4. On page 5, Alessandra breaks down each one of those steps so you’re not left with free-floating questions about what she just propagated. She makes her point, and she breaks it down.

The Coffee Break Screenwriter is offered up in digestible bits. It makes you think and go back to your script and say, “Oh, shoot. Do I have that? Maybe if I did, it would be so much better.” One of its strengths is the workbook style that engages rather than dictates.

I’m 1/25 through the book, and I very much doubt I’ll encounter a loud-sigh moment mid-point through it.

Well, damn it. Let’s look at page 132 and 133.

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Doesn’t your mind reel with memorable movies and TV shows that have utilized either of these suggestions? And don’t you want to go back to your script to see if either one of those methods will elevate your work?

You don’t have to be pressed for time to reap the benefits of Alessandra’s book. Whether you have ten minutes or not, it will inspire action in your script and on your script. And what’s a script without a little caffeine to movie it along?

Pilar Alessandra will be teaching a TV master class on Friday, May 29 and several May 30 feature classes at Scriptfest. For more information on her book, podcast, classes, and services, you can head to the OnThePage website.

 

(Based on a copy provided by the publisher for review)

 

–Ken Choy

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