Fancher’s Manifesto of Motion and Minimalism (review: ‘The Wall Will Tell You, The Forensics of Screenwriting,’ by Hampton Fancher)

“Incidents, yes, but no incidentals.”

The Wall Will Tell You (2019, Melville House Publishing) is a compact (80 pages long) writing guide, consisting entirely of themed blocks of aphorisms and admonitions concerning screenwriting techniques for narrative flow, characterization, themes and other associated topics.

Fancher’s own writing, showcased in films such as Blade Runner (1982), The Minus Man (1999) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), tends to exactitude and concision, so it was unsurprising to me that the primary focus of the book is minimalism and motion. He implores the reader to, “Clarify, stay with the objective. There are exceptions, but if you digress, it better be pertinent to something your story or characters are up to…,” and later notes, “Exposition is the bugbear of screenplay writing. Best be sly with that, don’t open your hand. The closed one is more enticing.” I induce Christopher Nolan disagrees.

Given the useful but obvious nature of much of the advice (for example, “A character concerns us because of what she does, what she says and that she says it in situations the outcomes of which are uncertain.”), experienced authors are unlikely to get much out of the tome other than appreciation of Fancher’s style and the occassional memorable maxim (“The hidden heart is more revealing.”), having likely come across most of the material (if not the deft articulation) on their own; however, for those who find themselves struggling to put together their first manuscript or despairing over their second, I’d highly recommend it.

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