The Guru: Jule Selbo
The Book: Gardner’s Guide to Screenplay: From Idea to Successful Script
The Year: 2007
The History: Unlike our other gurus, Selbo’s book is not well known and hasn’t had a seismic effect. I’ve included her for two reasons: (a) to show that there are dozens more structures available in other books, and (b) because I love how her structure doesn’t resemble anybody else’s, but still pretty much works. Selbo teaches at California State Fullerton and she’s written several direct-to-video sequels to Disney movies.
Outrageous Statement that Makes You Want to Reject the Book Outright: None, really. Selbo is a good, down to earth writer who doesn’t engage in outrageous overreaches.
Areas Where It’s Less Than Helpful:
- I like how she questions the rigidity of other structures, but the flip side of this is that her structure slides around too much. It fits every movie, but, by her own admission, some movies spend 60 pages on just one of the steps. If so you’re not going to get much guidance here for those 60 pages:
- As a result, this is a good structure for figuring out which beats are missing from your hero’s story, but it’s not very helpful for figuring out where you need to be on any given page. This structure won’t tell you: “Uh-oh, you’re halfway through, so it’s time to kick things up a notch.”
- I was really struck by how unique but nevertheless universal Selbo’s structure was, which convinced me that every story structure was really an attempt to describe the inherent structure of a problem, rather than merely the traditions of previous writers.
- This is proven by the fractal nature of her structure: it applies to a whole movie, it applies separately to each sub-plot, it applies to each sequence, and it even applies within each big scene.
- I love how much she stresses that the hero must first try to solve the problem logically. Blake Snyder insists that you get to “the promise of the premise” by page 30, but this can lead to movies like The Negotiatior, where Sam Jackson decides to take hostages way too quickly. Compare this to Safety Last: people have come to see Harold Lloyd climb a building against his will, but Lloyd smartly takes the time to exhaust all the other options, even though it means that the promise of the premise doesn’t arrive until halfway through.
- She does a great job walking you through several movies and showing how her structure applies. The book is a simply a good read.