Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: The Inner Game of Screenwriting: Twenty Winning Story-Forms (Sandy Frank, Michael Wiese Press)

The Inner Game of Screenwriting promises to teach screenwriters the single biggest thing a screenplay needs to be succesful. The secret of this success is a 'relentless focus on the inner game'. And what is this inner game? Well, it's no spoiler to reveal it, really, as it's explained in the first pages of the book.

The Inner Game is the transformational arc of the main character.

So you might be thinking - didn't I know this already?

Well, yes and no. Author Sandy Frank (who used to work for a Wall Street law firm before changing careers) admits that the concept has been around for a while.

But the subtitle of the book reads '20 Winning Storyforms'. And that's definitely something new.

The unique approach of The Inner Game of Screenwriting is that it takes a thorough and varied look at the concept of the transformational arc.

Mr. Frank distinguishes between two types of inner games: morph and myth. Each type has a number of archetypes attached to it, which are the storyforms of the subtitle. A morph inner game shows the main character going through an outer game (the plot) which causes a transformation on the psychological level (the inner game). A myth inner game shows a character going through an outer game which symbolizes the inner game. This may sound somewhat confusing but the book makes everything clear. It's also worth noting that the myth archetypes discussed here really have nothing to do with the Hero's Journey approach.

The morph archetypes describe all manners of variations on the theme of inner change: for the better, for the worse, or even those instances where the hero is incapable of change.

An extremely interesting chapter is the one about using the enneagram to define your main character's psyche and tailor inner flaws and problems which are real and relevant to this personality type. The enneagram is a personality profilling method, and even if you don't subscribe to its spiritual aspect, it provides you with very complete and multi-dimensional personality descriptions which can be applied to your characters. (One could also use the personality descriptions of astrological star signs to this effect)
What's also interesting about the enneagram types is that each has several subtypes, showing the personality type at its best, 'medium' and worst. So you can use these different aspects of the same type in deciding how you're going to let your character transform, which changes actually make sense with regards to the personality type.
Of course the enneagram is a huge subject which is barely touched upon here (only two of the types are examined in any detail), but Sandy Frank does provide links to resources in order to deepen your knowledge of this

The rest of the book examines structuring your screenplay to maximize the inner game,
the inner game and sequels, remakes and adaptations, and there's also a chapter on writing for television and how the inner game relates to that. There are a few chapters on exceptions to the inner game-rule, and you're also taught how to x-ray a screenplay in order to evaluate its inner game.

One aspect of the book which raised my eyebrows was the insistence on commercial success - as if quality and commercial success are somehow linked. Many movie classics did less than brilliant business when they were first released (look at Citizen Kane for one), so that's a approach to the art and craft I'm not very comfortable with. Your mileage obviously may and will vary.

I'm also not quite sure the list of myth archetypes is all-encompassing - I get the feeling a few more options exist. The archetypes which are presented, are interesting and useful, however, and certainly can get you started.

To sum up: The Inner Game provides you with several ways to implement the transformational arc to your characters and story, and because it does cast its net quite wide, it manages to avoid the trap of promoting just one type of transformational story. It's a 'big picture' book, basically helping the writer develop the overarching story, and as such it needs to be supplemented by more practical manuals for beginning writers. But it is very succesful at providing the screenwriter with a wide array of tools and options for strengthening and deepening the transformational arc.

The paperback can be found here:

And the kindle option is available here: