Don’t let writing your drama screenplay turn into a crisis.
Lucy V. Hay is careful about defining drama in this guide, ensuring that it is distinct from genres such as horror or thrillers (if you wish to glean specific advice on creating thrillers Hay has also written a useful book on that very subject, Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays), and carefully explaining what drama is NOT, before describing how the film/TV industry perceives drama and genre.
Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays is a useful and well structured tome that emphasises many of its ideas in bullet points which grab the reader’s attention and then goes on to provide a series of detailed case studies that illustrate specific examples of the drama form. These range from low-budget short films to full length blockbusters and TV series, placing the screenplay in context and demonstrating the techniques involved with the development of the form.
The advice throughout is useful and Hay occasionally incorporates some harshly humorous notes into the text which ensure that you pay attention and (hopefully!) learn how your writing will result in a piece that considers and then avoids the potential pitfalls associated with writing bad or mediocre drama. Not developing a pitch which declares ‘A miserable character leads a miserable life THEN DIES (or worse)!’ is essential advice. The book provides plenty of practical tips that will help in constructing and editing your screenplay without falling resorting to scenes that are predictable or boring, or contain overly stagey dialogue and needlessly enhanced scenes, but is careful about emphasising when certain perceived troublesome ideas (like the misery drama) can result in a great work, sometimes from unexpected places, such as Hours (2013) from writer Eric Heisserer who also gave us Final Destination 5 (2011) and the prequel ice and alien horror The Thing (2011).
In some books, too much of an author’s personal views can be distracting but here it is a vital element as Hay demonstrates her understanding of characterisation and narrative within each of her case studies; her experience within the industry is valuable. These examples are the book’s key strength as they examine the production history, budget and realisation of the films discussed as well as critical analysis of how they emphasise key aspects of creating a strongly realised drama. A particularly interesting case study is that of Rocketboy, which has yet to go into production but is helpfully broken down to describe elements that have been raised throughout the book, as well as the film’s selling points as a period family drama.
Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays offers the writer plenty of ideas and techniques to recognise what makes a good drama and how to go about realising a robust and solid screenplay that has the potential to be marketed.