Reflections of the Shadow

Reflections of the Shadow by Jeffery Hirschberg
Hirschberg starts by analysing first the hero and then the villain, looking at what makes them one thing or the other, why they do the things they do, the external and internal motivations for each and cites terrific examples to back up his theories. He then dives a bit deeper by discussing 10 memorable heroes from some great films and then 10 memorable villains in the same way - and these films are as recent as The Dark Knight - looking at their motivations and behaviour, their relationship to the hero and to the story, looking at particular scenes, certain lines of dialogue and turning points to illustrate the points he is trying to make.

The book continues by outlining a process by which you can create your own heros and villains and it does this in a couple of cool ways. We have interviews with established screenwriters discussing how they approached this same aspect of their writing followed by a set of questions you, as the writer, need to answer about your characters to build up the layers that make a complex and compelling hero or villain. Then he approaches the task of creating the arc for each of your main characters and how it relates to plot, showing how the storyline of each will sometimes parallel and sometimes cross but will always end up in the same place at the same time in order to reach a resolution.

Finally we have "Jeff's Eleven Laws Of Great Storytelling" which is a bit of a retread on the basics of storytelling that you'll have read elsewhere and in other books but always, I guess, valuable to go over, although there are a bunch of do's and don'ts for heros and villains that are worth making into a cut-out-and-keep reference. Every chapter is nicely summarised and the whole is chock-full of exercises that are worth trying but don't involve enough writing for me; watching films is a good thing to do if you want to write films but ultimately getting words on the page is, I think, more valuable,

Like all such books it deals with sweeping generalisations and, as such, there were specific analyses that I found myself disagreeing with, but they have been provided to support Hirschberg's theories and they do that well. All-in-all it's a decent book that covers a topic that you may have come across before but certainly won't have seen in this much depth. The writing style is easy and accessible and even if you're not a writer but are just interested in the mechanics of how movies are made you'll get a lot out of it.

Reflections of the Shadow is published by Michael Wiese Books and is available from, Blackwell and all good book stores.

Jeffrey Hirschberg is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Television and Film Arts Program at Buffalo State College. A member of the Writer's Guild of America and judge for the WGA awards. Jeffrey has been a professional screenwriter for eighteen years and has written and/or created shows for Showtime Networks, Lifetime Television, and ABC.

Jeffrey's website is here.

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