Sunday, May 04, 2008

Wells Root, Picasso, & the Formula Freaks

Our good friend, Mark Achtenberg, offered a follow-up to our discussion on Formula Freaks, and in it, he quotes Wells Root, a man known for his classic 1980 book, Writing the Script. Here’s a portion:

Remember Shaw's unbreakable rule. For this and all following chapters there is no unbreakable rule.

This three-act design principle is never a rigid structure. It is a generalized framework, elastic and flexible. Almost every great story you can think of will reveal striking variations. Originality lies in creative distinctions. The beginning, the middle, and the end is a concept to start with. Where you go with it is a measure of your creative imagination.

In fact, a number of filmmakers, critics, and intellectuals reject the three-act design. Flatly. Indignantly. They say, among other things, that the tidy, packaged quality of the beginning, the middle, and the end is superficial. It is too patent a manufacture. In life things never happen that way.

Indeed they don't. "No one has ever seen," said Picasso, "a natural work of art." In any field of art, ancient or modern…

Thanks, Mark. I loved it. To read the rest, go


Mark said...

I forgot that I had the book and pulled it off my shelf and starting reading through it. It's comforting knowing that our little discussion has been going on for years.

I am a firm believer in breaking the rules. However, rules are best broken by those who know the rules. That way, you have a purpose and, as Wells says, an idea to communicate.

Mystery Man said...

You're right. It has been going on for years and will continue to do so, I'm sure.

With respect to rules, I completely agree with you. One must mount a vigorous, well-researched defense of rule-breaking, which can be such an overwhelming obstacle to overcome, you might wonder "why bother."


Laura Deerfield said...

Why bother? Because if you do not know the rules, you cannot know how to break them and risk, instead, churning out something standard and unoriginal - simply for lack of knowing any better.

I saw this again and again with poets in my writing courses in school - they thought they were rebelling, and instead they were doing something which not only had been done before, but which was done by someone not all that revolutionary...mostly because they refused to read volumes of poetry (aside, perhaps, from their three favorites), or to study form.