We tend to make esoteric things harder than they are. But the art of writing is really very Zen-like: You get to a point where you realize you were making things needlessly difficult.
This book does give easy answers to difficult questions, and as you read you'll discover several slap-your-forehead moments, those wonderful moments of recognition when this book's content jibes with your own instinct. You'll discover that you had the answers all along.
It's hard being a writer. Most of us won't survive; we need all the help we can get.
When I think of the writer's life I envision sea turtle hatchlings bursting out of their eggs and dashing for the ocean. To them, that stretch of sand is death itself. Predators abound. The majority won't make it to the ocean, and of those that do, most will wind up in a fish's gullet. But the few surviving sea turtles can live for centuries. I've read cases of some bearing the musketballs of Spanish galleons embedded in their shells.
Karl Iglesias will help you make it to the ocean. Once you get there, however, you're on your own.
Mr. Iglesias' premise is that emotion is the prime factor, the elusive bird of paradise which makes all technical elements cohere and quicken into a living thing. And he's right. By God, he's right. Emotion is what's missing. It's the other white meat.
Let me address some criticisms. One reviewer complains about the formulaic approach to this book (101 ways to do this, 24 sure-fire et cetera) and goes on to gripe that Mr. Iglesias advises us to go about our work willy-nilly. Not true. First, why complain that you're getting a specific number of tools to place in your box? Frankly, I'll buy a book and consider it money well-spent if it gives me even one tool I can use, much less 101. Second, nowhere does Mr. Iglesias advise us to manipulate emotions arbitrarily. From page 227: "It's up to you whether you want [the reader] to feel bored or exhilarated. A great artist has *absolute control* over those responses." (Emphasis mine.) From page 15: "Create the *intended emotional effect* on the reader."
I could keep listing passages where Mr. Iglesias clearly advises us to hold the reigns on our creative stallions. Away with that criticism.
Another reviewer complained of the triteness of Mr. Iglesias' case studies. Casablanca, Silence of the Lambs, Chinatown, et cetera. I grant that these movies are oft-used in screenwriting texts, but...does it really matter? Does it? The principles of fine storytelling rear their heads in every fine Story; in a very real way they're fixed, like the principles of appendix removal. That's one of the fascinating things about Story. The epic Gilgamesh--the first written story--arrayed itself on twelve cuneiform tablets with the principles of classical plot already in place, much as sexual gametes are formed with all their cellular components already in place, much as the embryo which is destined to become an adult female already has the precise number of eggs that that same adult female will ever produce in her lifespan already in place. Besides, that reviewer's complaints are unfounded. In addition to analyzing Chinatown, Silence, et. al., Mr. Iglesias also offers cogent analyses of more or less modern TV shows such as Caroline in the City, Frasier, Gilmore Girls; movies such as American Beauty, Alien, As Good As It Gets, Almost Famous, Annie Hall, The Matrix, dozens more. The naysayer's opinion that Chinatown wouldn't sell today is just that--an opinion. He doesn't take into account that if Chinatown or North by Northwest had not been made, then today's market would be radically different; those movies were bar-raising movies, and if their release had been delayed until today, then they would find themselves appearing on a market waiting for the bar to be raised. And they would raise it. Therefore, Chinatown would sell in today's market, as would North by Northwest.
Sure, the text is vaguely repetitive, but come on...conduct a search of screenplay textbooks. Mine yielded 2,307 results. And given the fact that we're discussing fixed principles, repetition among author-teachers seems destined. Believe me, the repetition isn't bad--what child doesn't delight in having her favorite bedtime story read over and over and over? Repetition is how we learn. Despite treading the occasional familiar ground, there were still plenty of eureka moments. For instance, Mr. Iglesias vastly expanded my understanding of the dramatic irony concept. And he drew some splendid parallels between classical structuring (beginning, middle, end) and emotional structuring and thematic structuring.
All in all, this is a wonderfully practical book, and a bonus is the free Emotional Thesaurus (nowhere near true thesaurus size, but still--it was free!), available in .pdf format, which the author emails to you upon proof of purchase of this book. Nifty gift. Buy the book. I mean, is your career worth twenty bucks to you? Is the ability to pleasure yourself worth twenty bucks to you? Is the ability to be dangerously effective worth twenty bucks to you?
It was to me.