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Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Guy Gallo
Publication Date: 
Focal Press
Bottom Line: 

Here at Horrorview, we know that many of our readers are aspiring filmmakers, themselves, and, as such, I’ve been making an attempt to cover any and all forms of information being made available to help others achieve their goals (or, at the very least, learn something new to add to their storytelling arsenal). One of the best publishers out there for burgeoning filmmakers, writers, photographers, and just plain creative folk is a little company called Focal Press. Over the years, I’ve added more than a few titles from this company to my bookshelf, including such vital assets as “The Filmmaker’s Book of the Dead”, “DSLR Cinema”, and Lloyd Kauffman’s “…Own Damn Movie” series. All of these titles offer a dizzying amount of practical information and real world examples of how you, too, can make your own independent motion picture. Of course, before you put on your director’s hat and yell Action, you’re going to need a good script, and good scripts feature strong, relatable characters. That’s where Focal Press’ latest offering, “Screenwriter’s Compass: Character as True North”, will prove invaluable to the creation and/or completion of your latest screenplay.

Screenwriter’s Compass is a very different sort of screenwriting book in that it doesn’t attempt to show you how to write a screenplay, but, rather, aims to get you to change your approach to writing as a whole by teaching you how to read your work. Over seven chapters, author, Guy Gallo (Under the Volcano), guides us through a fascinating journey through the thought process behind the writing of a screenplay, and, using snippets of philosophy, reading theory, and fragments of other screenplays, asks us to take what we’ve learned and re-read our scripts. This approach makes it a much more than just another in a long line of “how-to” manuals that already litter the bookstore shelves as Gallo makes it clear from the outset that using his book – or any book, for that matter – will not teach you how to write a screenplay. It will, however, give writers the necessary tools to be more objective when judging their own work and thus allow the writer to use what they've learned to make said work more concise, more logical, and, ultimately, more sellable.

Something else that sets Gallo’s book apart from the many stale and turgid volumes I’ve personally slogged through over the years is his witty, conversational prose that not only makes this short book immensely readable, but one whose lessons will stick with you for the long haul. At a lean 214 pages, Screenwriter’s Compass is a book most of you will read in a matter of days (if not hours), but don’t let its brevity fool you. This thing is packed with information that you’ll find yourself referring to again and again.

It’s a rare feat indeed to see a screenwriting book that actually brings something new to the table, but Gallo manages to accomplish just that with Screenwriter’s Compass. It's a book that will serve as both a frequently revisited inspirational tool as well as an invaluable resource, and it deserves a spot on your shelf alongside such essential reads as “The Screenwriter’s Bible” and Syd Field’s legendary “Foundations of Screenwriting”.

Highly recommended! 

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