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Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets From the Greatest Mind in Western Civilization Paperback – August 21, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (August 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786887400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786887408
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This earnest how-to puts a new spin on Aristotle as the master of philosophy, calling him not only the "greatest mind in western civilization," but also the "world's first movie story analyst." Asserting that Aristotle's Poetics has become a standard for constructing movies that reach audiences (and studio heads), Tierno, a director and Miramax story analyst, shows how to apply the basics of the great work to one's own screenplay. He introduces the "Action-Idea" as the way to understand the demands of the story, and debunks the belief that, in Poetics, Aristotle mandates a three-act structure. He also lays bare how people misread Aristotle's advice to employ the "imitation of a serious action." Tierno stresses the importance of ditching subplots for a story featuring "one complete action" and constantly supports his points with examples of successful films, such as Titanic and Rosemary's Baby. The frequent capsule plot summaries of favorites including The Godfather and Gladiator make Aristotle's instructions concrete, and Tierno helpfully breaks the movies down into plot essentials. Throughout, he is respectful but informal toward Aristotle. Tierno praises Aristotle for representing "beautiful truth," although the breeziness and the eager tone he takes may, at times, put off more serious readers. Still, screenwriters looking beyond the "three-act structure" mantra will find applicable strategies, and those who dismiss Aristotle as old hat will find their perceptions set straight with Tierno's modern movie examples.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A clever approach to screenwriting." -- Library Journal

"Makes the precepts accessible with easy comparisons to contemporary hits." -- Variety.com

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Customer Reviews

This book was very informative.
C. Kazolias
And it is surprising how fresh Aristotle still sounds today, according to Mr Tierno's reading.
Paulo Leite
I will definitely look at it more than once.
Jack M

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
Many screenwriting gurus say "Everything you need to know about how to write good drama is in Aristotle's Poetics," but then they never explain what's actually in that work! I've tried reading Aristotle's original text, but it is really tough going. Tierno's book is a real find - it boils down a rambling, classics text into concise concepts, tips and techniques that I could understand and use. Tierno provides examples of how all this stuff really works in a variety of films, too. This book is not only practical, but pretty inspiring, too. It gets to the "heart" and "roots" of good drama, something you can forget about when you get bogged down with a script. After reading this, I was excited and motivated to return to my own work.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By D. Rahmel on March 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is useful for fiction writers as well as screenwriters. The author interprets Aristotle's ideas and suggestions and then renders them with examples into language applicable to modern drama. Many of Aristotle's original ideas are quoted and have timeless power. For example: "Beginners succeed earlier with Diction and Characters than with the construction of a story."

Tierno relates how the parts of a modern script evaluation (Log Line, Brief, Plot Summary, Comments, Idea, Story, Character, Dialogue, and Production Values) mirror Aristotle's examination of the same elements. I especially liked how the film "Gladiator" was used for the example of "the mistake in a hero's reasoning, leading to the hero's subsequent related misfortunes."

The short length makes the book a fast but powerful read.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Paulo Leite on August 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you are (or want to be) a serious screenwriter, you probably already know names like Robert McKee, Syd Field, Linda Seger, David Trottier and even David Bordwell...

The good thing about Mr. Tierno's book is that it goes back to the one fundamental text who, 2300 years before the birth of Cinema, already thought about many of the things all other screenwriting authors still talk about - what do we do in order to achieve higher drama?

And it is surprising how fresh Aristotle still sounds today, according to Mr Tierno's reading. Even if we consider that the object of Aristotle's thought was not the Cinema, but the Classical Greek Theatre - or the mimetic form of representation.

In fact, there is nothing new about Aristotle (or Cinema, or narrative, or screenwriting) here besides the fact that Mr. Tierno does an accurate reading of the great greek thinker and explains many of his key concepts.

In a nutshell, this book is an excelent reminder of how important, necessary and universal, good drama can be. Also it is a great reminder that screenwriting is a natural heir of most of storytelling's past traditions.

It is also a proof that screenwriting is an art form by itself.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book has not only helped me to understand the somewhat complex art of dramatic stroy telling - but it has helped me to help others. Recently working on a documentaty project with a first time director, this book allowed him to internalize and distill his thoughts into a more cohesive vision, that was readily translatable to an audience. I would reccomend this book to any one who wants to gain insight and understanding to "the movies."
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Being a professor of ancient Greek classics, I am impressed that a mass-market book about Aristotle's Poetics possesses such keen insights into the breadth of the work, including Tierno's fluidity with tying back the Poetics to Aristotle's greater system of thought. Perhaps if more Hollywood screenwriters would adhere to Tierno's teaching of Aristotle there might be more sophisticated enjoyable adult films coming out of the modern studio system. -Being a professor of ancient Greek classics, I am impressed that a mass-market book about Aristotle's Poetics possesses such keen insights into the breadth of the work, including Tierno's fluidity with tying back the Poetics to Aristotle's greater system of thought. Perhaps if more Hollywood screenwriters would adhere to Tierno's teaching of Aristotle there might be more sophisticated enjoyable adult films coming out of the modern studio system.
-Ancient Greek Classics Professor
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Dr. P. F. Kiernan on January 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
So, did you know that Hollywood execs assess screenplays using 'exactly' the same criteria found in Aristotle? Or that the film 'Rocky' can be analysed following the 'story structure' of Sophocles' 'Oedipus Rex', which the Daddy of Lit.Crit examined to demonstrate 'timeless universal truths' about drama?

And did you know that Aristotle talked about 'the three unities of dramatic action: time, place, and action'?

Neither did I!

Poor Aristotle, and poor us! Crumpling under this veritable barrage of howlingly wrong interpretations of an ancient fragment of literary criticism by a terrific guy who was writing a work-in-progress, always looking out for new ideas, testing out his theories and modifying them as he went along.

To treat his 'Poetics' as a completed and revised treatise of the art and craft of drama is an insult to a great mind. Only one quarter of his works survive. He wasn't interested in setting the Ten Commandments on How To Write a Play in stone. And, my God, he'd be furious if he could see how perversely his work has been misinterpreted, mangled and torn and chewed over (and spat out on poor aspiring screenwriters' scripts by self-proclaimed experts).

Let's for once give this man the courtesy and respect of reading what he actually wrote, and put a stop, once and for all, to putting words into his mouth.

The Big One:
'A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be.
An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessaity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it.
Read more ›
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