Review: Story Maps by Daniel Calvisi

Why am I, a novelist, recommending Story Maps: How to Write a Great Screenplay by Daniel P. Calvisi to other novelists?

Sometimes, stepping outside one's own writing arena and exploring how other writers accomplish their storytelling may help one understand an element that is difficult. One may gain deeper insight into one's own field of writing endeavor.

Book Specs

Format: Several Digital Formats offered.
PDF format: 232 pages
Publisher: Act Four Screenplays
ISBN: 13 978-0-9836266-1-9
Copyright © Daniel P. Calvisi 2011
Price: Range from $9.95 to $14.95 depending on format; bundled packages also available

How To Write Books

I read a lot of how-to-write books because I, like most writers, am always learning, striving to improve–to find, perhaps, a better way to tell a story or to bring characters to life without so much trial and error. Even though I'm not a screenwriter of any fashion, I've read all the popular screenwriting books.

Too many of them seem designed to impress the reader with how esoteric the art of screen writing is rather than teach the writer how to create breakneck pacing like in the movie Taken. Or how to craft a story with the emotional resonance of Shawshank Redemption.

In his Introduction to Story Maps: How to Write a Great Screenplay, author Daniel P. Calvisi tells why he wrote this book. "No matter where you're at in your career or who you know, you still need to blow away the reader, so I'm going to show you the best and most focused way to emulate the many successful scripts and movies that I've studied for over two decades."

Writers Have Same Needs

Well, guess what? Novelists--indeed, all writers--need to blow away the reader too–with every book they write. In our case, the reader isn't a studio exec or a Story Analyst like Dan Calvisi. Our readers are the people who plunked down their hard-earned bucks for our books.

Any book that gives lessons in the skill of blowing the reader away is a book writers need to read. From the Introduction to Dan's closing, "Good luck and Happy Writing," Story Maps delivers. Imagine sitting around a coffee shop or a bar and talking one-on-one to a movie-writing, storytelling pro like Dan Calvisi. A no-holds barred, no frills, tell-it-like-it-really-is, no sugar-coating conversation. That's what reading this book is like.

We Know Movies

Movies are part of the fabric of our lives. We share the same cultural experience. We may not all read the same books, but, chances are, we grew up watching the same movies. Today, we throng to the theaters on opening day, or grab the DVDs as soon as they're available. We know the movies Dan discusses. We've all laughed at The Hangover and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days–two very different comedies (both analyzed herein so you see why they worked–why they were so popular with audiences).

When you read the Story Maps of all the movies Dan dissects, you'll see how the story moves from beat to beat. You'll understand the craft of the screenplay. We all "know" the Indiana Jones movies so when Dan discusses External Goal, Internal Goal, Central Dramatic Question, we nod. We get it!

A Treasure

The examples, the story maps, keep coming, and as you read, you get excited because you realize that a Story Map is something that you can apply to your novels. When you look at the structure, the Basic Story Map Elements, you instantly grasp that it's an easily accessible storytelling template much like the mythic structure popularized by Joseph Campbell, but so much easier to understand. Keep reading, and, by the end of the book, it's as if you absorbed the structure. There's a harmonic resonance between the story map structure and your writer's consciousness.

Takeaway Truth

In truth, I found this book to be brilliant. I can see how screenwriters would love it, but I know how fiction writers–whether novice or seasoned pro--would benefit tremendously by reading and using its techniques. Add this to your writing library today.


  1. Well, you sold me. I'll have to get this book. When I can find time to read it, I don't know. I'm so swamped, but like you, I want to continue to learn how to improve my writing.

  2. Cheryl Bolen ... Excellent. Where can a tired writer buy a little extra time I wonder? I'm terribly behind on reading. Have your Regencies buried in my cyber bookstack somewhere.

  3. Knowing what a "reader" is looking for and expects to move your script up the ladder is something that is a must read for anyone who really wants to be a screenwriter. Buy it, read it, then read it again.

  4. Craig Kirich said...Buy it, read it, then read it again.

    Excellent advice! Thanks for visiting.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

  5. I wanted to add something about STORY MAPS.

    Please don't think the book is composed only of structural templates. It's not, and I don't want anyone to not buy the book because they have that expectation.

    STORY MAPS gives you excerpts from actual screenplays, showing you the format and language on the page in use by pro screenwriters.

    Tone, voice on the page, word choice, strong and active verbs, etc., as shown in excerpts from such screenplays as Juno, As Good As It Gets, Saving Private Ryan and even a sample scene that adapts the opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep to screenplay format.