Turn & Burn: The Scriptwriter’s Guide to Writing Better Screenplays Faster

Do you want to develop scripts that leap off the page? Do you want to write scripts that grab readers by their lapels and offer you the best possible chance of success? Do you want to turn around scripts faster than ever before? Then read on!

Inspired by my extensive online posts and extended three-fold to include content on character development, dialogue, effective drafting, and building a career, the Turn & Burn methodology offers practical, real-world advice for quickly turning stories – within any genre – into engaging and authentic movie scripts.

Turn & Burn is a proven and systematic way to get the very best out of your ideas and your unique artistic voice.

In this book:

  • Maximise the power of concept, structure, and theme to create absorbing stories.
  • Nail down your characters – heroes, villains, and everyone in-between.
  • Develop your hero’s journey through the five-fold approach of: Yearn, Turn, Burn, Learn, and Earn.
  • Recognise how the power of emotion ultimately captures hearts and minds.
  • Take realistic and dramatic dialogue to the next level.
  • Understand the complete journey of a scriptwriter’s career, so you remain enthusiastic and motivated, even when rejection raises its ugly head.
  • Avoid the pitfalls that can send you in circles by learning what not to do!
  • Includes practical worksheets that bring process and structure to script development. (They can also be downloaded for free from the publisher’s website.)

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Endorsed by a Former Director of UTA’s Story Department

Walley’s onto something in terms of making theme a priority – not just that there aren’t enough scripts with something resonating beyond plot, and certainly not that writers or their characters should get on a soapbox. Rather, he’s arguing that a lack of theme means a lack of a narrative foundation. It’s rare for a writing manual to focus on theme as a nucleus for story; ironically it’s where the industry has tended to be the most starved. The lack of thematic bassline was where I saw the bulk of scripts suffer when I was a reader at a major agency.

Read the full review by Scott Foster here.

Highly Recommended by Picture this Post

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.

Read the full review by Brent Ervin-Eickhoff here

Customer Reviews

★★★★★ Invaluable insight from a working indie writer…

As a screenwriter, there’s one topic I find pops up constantly – both when chatting with indie directors, and lay-person movie-loving-pals. It’s that million dollar (or $100 million dollar, if you’re talking blockbuster) question: Why the absolute hell are movies so empty and boring these days?

Well, there’s plenty which feeds into that. For instance, the degree to which fear of risk drives most funding decisions in large studios. From that perspective, why take a gamble with a new tale, when one can just roll out another version of something which has a built in audience – you know, like Jurassic Park 13?

The structure of Hollywood – and the power its accountants wield – are as epic a tale as the franchises they bankroll. It’s not fair to unilaterally blame the screenwriter, when forces like that call the shots!

Yet – as is often noted – scripts are the blueprint which movies are built from. As the architects and creative fuel-source of that foundation, us writers have to own our responsibilities, too.

Anyone who’s tripped and stumbled through the dizzying madness of the scriptwriting industry knows there’s a ton of how-to guides out there: “Learn to write movies in just 10 easy steps!” essays on how to break down scripts into acts, make sure a popular beat happens by page X, and plenty of other formulaic tips. Yes, it’s important to know one’s craft – and nifty to have a handle on all the insider tricks. But such color-by-numbers tactics are NOT the full story of scriptwriting. Nor can they alone create a classic tale others will cherish for years to come.

In the end, no matter how much FX, action, star power, or meticulously timed beats you throw at a film, if the heart and soul aren’t there, the end result just won’t sing. Memorable scripts have organic characters one can bond with, interwoven with universal human themes which makes you THINK.

Discussing the practical steps of growing such special ingredients is what makes CJ Walley’s Turn and Burn different – and a “thinker”, in its own right.

Rather than an exercise in plug-and-play, Turn and Burn is – in many ways – a philosophical heart to heart between a working indie writer, and those who strive to break through someday.

Delving into such wide-ranging topics as human themes, organic characters, dialogue, development and what predators in this biz to spot and shun, CJ Walley even ends each chapter with a frank discussion of his mistakes along his writer’s journey: what mistaken assumptions did he innocently fall prey into? What can other writers learn from them, and avoid?

A compendium of honesty and hard won lessons, Turn and Burn provides writers (from new to veteran indie) rare and invaluable insight.

Make no mistake, T&B is no STC (Save the Cat). No, it’s something more profound: a personally guided tour of the Olympic maze of the scriptwriting biz, and a series of gentle think-about-it nudges into the essentials of world building that handy-dandy screenwriting gimmicks can window-dress, but NOT replace.

Read T&B and you’ll find not only needed writerly comradeship, but also a reminder as to why you got into scriptwriting, and reassurance why this whole wild ride is worth the trip!

– Janet Clarke

★★★★★ INT. WRITING ROOM – DAY – A middle aged man has just read this awesome guide on Screenwriting!

As a screenwriter I’m always interested in reading books that give us insight and ways to improve as a screenwriter. This book is one of my favorite reference books on Screenwriting, I’m serious…
Sometimes information can be interrupted wrongly and lead you…great examples in this book that help both the novice and expert writers.

– Amazon Customer

★★★★★ Finally, a book worth recommending again

I’ve been fortunate to have a career in the motion picture industry that is spanning into its (gulp) fifth decade and for the last thirty years or so I have only suggested one book when writers ask me to refer a one on the craft of writing (Writing the Script by Wells Root). So, finally, after all these years a book I can recommend that is not only relevant but a true eye-opener on not only good storytelling but how to get there as a writer. Too many books tell you what you need to do but don’t give you the road map on how to get there. THIS BOOK does that and a whole lot more. Do yourself a favor and get Turn & Burn by CJ Walley. You’ll be glad you did.

– V.G

★★★★★ A must-read for screenwriters looking to improve their craft while maintaining their sanity.

If you’re a rule-follower adamant that doggedly following conventional screenwriting rules is a must and believe anxiety-inducing harsh criticism is legit and necessary to succeed, this book is not for you. Or maybe it’s exactly what you need to maintain a healthy mindset long term.

CJ Walley’s Turn & Burn is a refreshing, yet realistic, no b.s. guide that’s encouraging without being preachy. The relaxing tone is like conversing with your bestie who truly has your interests at heart. Sure, he provides the tips on structure, characters, dialogue, etc. you’d expect in a screenwriting book—and he does it in entertaining ways that make sense—but he also addresses the importance of self-care, avoiding toxicity and finding balance. He shares what’s worked for him; more interestingly, he also shares his mistakes and what he’s learned along his journey.

I’ve always gravitated toward people who keep it real, and CJ Walley doesn’t disappoint. He’s somewhat of a maverick in that he unapologetically shuns stringent rules and dives into the ugly side of the entertainment industry, but without being cruel or vindictive. He’s remarkably open about addressing his own mental health struggles. In a world where photo-shopped and sugarcoated social media posts are rampant, his honest vulnerability adds to his credibility. While he shares his methodology and successes, he’s not arrogant and doesn’t promise his approach will work for everyone. He’s passionate about personal fulfillment, enjoying the ride and rolling with the inevitable peaks and valleys along the way. He advocates remaining humble, embracing your quirks and staying true to your unique vision and art—believing in yourself and finding your joy, because art is highly subjective. He suggests artists ask themselves, “’Is this making me happy?’ because if it isn’t, what’s the point in doing it?” Sound advice that helps convey the spirit of this book.

As a screenwriter, I’d also highly recommend checking out Script Revolution, his free script-hosting platform for creatives. It’s a site he’s generously provided for other screenwriters to share their art, where writers have had their scripts optioned and sold. How’s that for character and paying it forward.

– Andrea Z.

★★★★★ HIGHLY recommend!! A++

This is what you are looking for!! An updated version of all the classics and told in a simple way. Updated to keep you current with all the things you need to know along with the ins and outs of the industry. Beginner AND veteran writers can find something in here to help you start up or give you that boost you need to get what you already have tightened up. 10/10 and I don’t hand these out.

– Ray

★★★★★ Well researched.

Excellent information, transfers his knowledge and experience very well. His website ‘script revolution’ is just what is needed.

– Amazon Customer

★★★★★ Great addition to your screenwriting craft collection

A fresh take from a pro. Loaded with tips, tricks, and encouragement. I especially loved that the worksheets in the book are available as downloads. So useful! Highly recommend.

Kathy Holzapfel

★★★★★ Plenty of Positive Reenforcement Here

While the technical aspects of writing are well covered, it is the personal vulnerability that rings true. A cautionary tale for all fledgling writers. Guard your mental health! “Hic sunt dracones” (Here be dragons).

C. Rawlings

★★★★★ So good I had to write a review

I never write reviews, but this book was too damn good that I couldn’t help myself. Plus I figure it’s my small way of thanking the author, CJ Walley, for writing something that helped me FINALLY understand the concept of theme, which was always this nebulous, ephemeral concept to me. In school I was taught us that theme was a word. Romeo and Juliet is about “love” for example, or “family.” But it’s not a word, it’s a sentence. It’s the author’s opportunity to make a statement he believes to be absolutely true about life/people/the world that, if people heard it, could learn something that would improve their lives and the make the world just al little bit better. Your story’s theme is, to quote CJ, “The medicine the worlds needs.” I also never realized the importance of deciding what theme you want to explore BEFORE you start writing and then shaping your story and character AROUND that theme. I thought it was the other way around. I could go on, but I’m hungry and I have a Subway sandwich waiting for me, but to wrap it up, I can’t recommend this book enough, and I wish I had read it sooner. It’s up there with Save The Cat in terms of mind-blowing-ness, in at least this screenwriter’s humble opinion.

– Peter Kovic

★★★★★ Practical advice with life experience to back it up

Like a lot of screen reading books, this is from a working screenwriter who’s recently had stuff published and produced, and he gives his failures as well as his successes. Writers of any genre in any discipline would be served by reading this.

– JP

★★★★★ Encouraging and practical

A great book by someone who’s gone through the trenches in terms of the challenges of breaking in as a screenwriter. Although this is predominantly about the craft of writing, it also covers career building and mental health issues. An encouraging reminder to not sell out to the expectations of others but to be an authentic artist. I particularly liked the quirky appendices with some helpful lists such as ‘Crazy Critics’ and ‘Moral Affections and Proverbs’.

– KathB

★★★★★ A knowledgeable and enjoyable read

I found “Turn and Burn” to be a practical, informative, and helpful guide to overcoming the pitfalls and setbacks in the current world of screenwriting. In a direct and down-to-earth manner, CJ Walley humbly shares his own experiences about having his screenplays recently made into films. He covers a wide range of topics, from creating organic characters who win over their audiences to the emotional tolls of dealing with rejection and believing in yourself enough to continue to follow your passion. It is both a knowledgeable and enjoyable read I have often returned to for references regarding my creative endeavors.