Cover image for Aristotle's poetics for screenwriters : storytelling secrets from the greatest mind in western civilization
Aristotle's poetics for screenwriters : storytelling secrets from the greatest mind in western civilization
Tierno, Michael.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2002]

Physical Description:
xx, 167 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1040.A53 T54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An insightful how-to guide for writing screenplays that uses Aristotle's great work as a guide.

Long considered the bible for storytellers, Aristotle's Poetics is a fixture of college courses on everything from fiction writing to dramatic theory. Now Michael Tierno shows how this great work can be an invaluable resource to screenwriters or anyone interested in studying plot structure. In carefully organized chapters, Tierno breaks down the fundamentals of screenwriting, highlighting particular aspects of Aristotle's work. Then, using examples from some of the best movies ever made, he demonstrates how to apply these ancient insights to modern-day screenwriting. This user-friendly guide covers a multitude of topics, from plotting and subplotting to dialogue and dramatic unity. Writing in a highly readable, informal tone, Tierno makes Aristotle's monumental work accessible to beginners and pros alike in areas such as screenwriting, film theory, fiction, and playwriting.

Author Notes

Michael Tierno is an award-winning writer/director of feature films, including the independent film Auditions. He is a story analyst for Miramax Films and teaches screenwriting seminars nationwide. He lives in New York City

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Agent, Susan Crawford. (Aug. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xvii
Introduction: The Action-Ideap. 1
1. Let's Start at the Very Beginning, Middle, and Endp. 7
2. Why You Want Your Movie to Be a Bomb!p. 13
3. The Subject Is an Action ... Not a Personp. 19
4. Forget Sub-plotting--the Best Plots Have One-Track Mindsp. 25
5. Plot Is Soulp. 31
6. The Ends Are Always in the Means of the Plotp. 33
7. Why Is My Beautiful Plot Growing a Hand Out of Its Head?p. 37
8. The Four Species of Plotp. 41
9. What the Poetics Says About Epics Like Lord of the Ringsp. 47
10. Destiny Is an Accident Waiting to Happenp. 55
11. Keep It in the Family ... The Tragic Deedp. 59
12. Oops! I Caused My Own Undeserved Misfortune Againp. 63
13. How a Little Moralizing Turned a Gladiator Gore Fest into a Best Picturep. 71
14. A Movie Is Long Enough, So It Ends Happy or Sadp. 75
15. If You're Happy and You Know It ... Time for a Reversal of Fortune and Discoveryp. 79
16. "It Scared Me Because I Saw It Coming" ... The Rolls Royce of Complex Plotsp. 83
17. The Devil Is in the Realistic Details of the Plot of Angel Heartp. 87
18. Whatever Causes the Action Better Be Up There on the Screenp. 93
19. A Movie Gave You a Bad Case of Pity and Fear? The Doctor Recommends a Catharsisp. 97
20. Action Speaks Louder Than Words, and Together They Can Speak Volumes!p. 101
21. The Perfect Hollywood Sad/Happy Plot versus the Perfect Poetics Sad Plotp. 105
22. Move Your Audience by Teaching Them What They Already Knowp. 109
23. The Good, the Bad, and the Intermediate Herop. 113
24. It's the Thought Behind the Action That Counts: Creating the Tone of Your Screenplayp. 117
25. How to Cheat If You Can't Hire a Whole Chorusp. 119
26. How to Create Characters That Are Really Really Really Alivep. 123
27. Dialog Is a Piece of the Actionp. 129
28. If the Pitch Doesn't Fill Me with Horror and Pity, the Movie Won't Eitherp. 135
29. The Non-Linear Soul of Quentin Tarantinop. 139
30. If Your Story Were a Musical, Where Would the Numbers Be?p. 143
31. History Repeats Itself ... Real and Imaginedp. 149
32. Aristotle's Take on the Importance of Dramap. 153
33. Aristotle Took Comedy Seriouslyp. 157
Closing Commentsp. 163