At the time of this writing, the Writers Guild of American is on strike and has been for weeks. Artificial Intelligence is a looming existential threat to writers of all stripes. And yet, for storytellers, the quest to craft compelling, human narratives remains.
Enter CJ Walley and his screenwriting guide, Turn & Burn. In its preface, Walley shares that he “hopes it brings some sense to all the madness.” Who knew when it was published in 2022 just how mad things would get?
TURN & BURN Makes Screenwriting Approachable and Achievable
At just 202 pages, Turn & Burn is a quick-to-read and easy-to-reference handbook about the world of screenwriting. Chapters and topics range from concept building and story structure to developing characters, writing realistic or dramatic dialogue, and career building. From discussions on how to “lock and load” your logline to creating characters that serve as “actor bait” to help get your film produced, Walley packs Turn & Burn full of useful tips and strategies to streamline the screenwriting process. The book even ends with a series of appendices featuring helpful references, including a section on “crazy critics” who panned much-lauded films such as The Lion King, Saving Private Ryan, and The Godfather, Pt. 2 for a helpful dose of perspective.
Walley doesn’t write from the role of guru. Instead, he shares his own trials and tribulations while distilling what’s worked for him. His inclusion of his own mistakes is what sets this manifesto apart from others, in this writer’s opinion. Early on, he confesses “structure was my Everest.” This prefaces the five simple words that helped him get to the heart structure: Yearn, Turn, Burn, Learn, and Earn. If you’re coming to Turn & Burn with some knowledge of traditional 3 Act Structure or even the Save the Cat approach, Walley includes a helpful graphic to illustrate how his approach to structure complements or diverges from these.
CJ Walley Shares Real-World Insights into Screenwriting
For many aspiring screenwriters, hearing that even a professional who viewed dialogue as a strength still had room for improvement (“I stopped obsessing over HOW my characters were talking and started obsessing over WHY they were talking”) is a valuable example to have. Beyond these vulnerabilities, Walley also includes tips and advice for how to prioritize your mental health, cut out toxicity in the industry, and value your own unique voice.
Anyone interested in gaining new insights into the craft of screenwriting will likely find much use in this handbook. Even movie buffs may gain a new appreciation for the hard work of screenwriters thanks to Walley’s willingness to open up so personally about the highs and lows of a career in the arts. For screenwriters who’ve already dog-eared the pages of Syd Field’s Screenplay, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Robert McKee’s Story, CJ Walley’s screenwriting guide, Turn & Burn: The Scriptwriter's Guide to Writing Better Screenplays Faster, offers as many lessons on structure as it does on sustaining a screenwriting career.
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About the Author: Brent Ervin-Eickhoff
Brent fell in love with storytelling as a 2nd grader, making a movie about wizards in his backyard with his mother's borrowed camcorder. Since then, he has worked on countless creative projects as a filmmaker, writer, and stage director. In all of his work, Brent's goal is to foster creative experiences that offer others a deeper understanding of the impact their choices have on the world around them.
When he isn't working on a creative project, Brent enjoys trying out new recipes, attending live concerts, and playing Ultimate Frisbee. While he wouldn't claim to be particularly athletic, competing in pick-up games where "spirit of the game" is just as important as skill is right up his alley.
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