I’ve been obsessed with screenwriting for quite a while now, and in this pursuit of knowledge, I’ve read just about every screenwriting book out there. I often find new writers asking the question, “What are the best screenwriting books to read?” So, I put together a list of books that I’ve personally read and can put my stamp of approval on. If you’re a new writer I would start with these books. They have great insight into the craft of screenwriting, as well as, the business side of things. Whether you are starting your first spec script, or mapping out your show bible, you should find a book that fits your needs.
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Syd Field’s books on the essential structure of emotionally satisfying screenplays have ignited lucrative careers in film and television since 1979. In this revised edition of his premiere guide, the underpinnings of successful onscreen narratives are revealed in clear and encouraging language that will remain wise and practical as long as audiences watch stories unfold visually—from hand-held devices to IMAX to virtual reality . . . and whatever comes next.
As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are fundamental guidelines to help all screenwriters—novices and Oscar-winners—hone their craft and sell their work.
In Screenplay, Syd Field can help you discover:
- Why the first ten pages of every script are crucial to keeping professional readers’ interest
- How to visually “grab” these influential readers from page one, word one
- Why structure and character are the basic components of all narrative screenplays
- How to adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a saleable script
- Tips on protecting your work—three ways to establish legal ownership of screenplays
- Vital insights on writing authentic dialogue, crafting memorable characters, building strong yet flexible storylines (form, not formula), overcoming writer’s block, and much more
Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry’s gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting.
2. The Screenwriter’s Bible
The Screenwriter s Bible‘s 7th edition marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most popular, authoritative, and useful books on screenwriting. A standard by which other screenwriting books are measured, it has sold over 340,000 copies in its 25-year life. Always up-to-date and reliable, it contains everything that both the budding and working screenwriter need under one cover five books in one!
- A Screenwriting Primer that provides a concise course in screenwriting basics
- A Screenwriting Workbook that walks you through the complete writing process, from nascent ideas through final revisions
- A Formatting Guide that thoroughly covers today’s correct formats for screenplays and TV scripts
- A Spec Writing Guide that demonstrates today’s spec style through sample scenes and analysis, with an emphasis on grabbing the reader’s interest in the first ten pages
- A Sales and Marketing Guide that presents proven strategies to help you create a laser-sharp marketing plan.
Among this book’s wealth of practical information are sample query letters, useful worksheets and checklists, hundreds of examples, sample scenes, and straightforward explanations of screenwriting fundamentals. The 7th edition is chock-full of new examples, the latest practices, and new material on non-traditional screenplay outlets.
3. Save the Cat!
Here’s what started the phenomenon: the best seller, for over 15 years, that’s been used by screenwriters around the world! Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by ― and why they’re important to your script Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the 15 Beats Creating the “Perfect Beast” by using The Board to map 40 scenes with conflict and emotional change How to get back on track with proven rules for script repair This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a showbiz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat.
4. The Anatomy of Story
John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood’s most successful films, including Sleepless in Seattle, Scream, and Shrek. The Anatomy of Story is his long-awaited first book, and it shares all his secrets for writing a compelling script. Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.
5. Writing Screenplays that Sell
Concise, authoritative, and comprehensive, Writing Screenplays that Sell is the most complete guide available on the art, craft, and business of screenwriting for movies and television. Renowned Hollywood story consultant Michael Hauge—considered “one of the most sought after lecturers and script consultants in the U.S.” by Scriptwriter magazine—covers every aspect from concept to deal: screenplay development, artistry versus commerciality, adaptations, copyright protection, living and working outside Los Angeles; finding an agent; and more.
Reflecting the latest trends and scripts, Writing Screenplays that Sell includes insight and detailed information on:
- Finding and selecting commercial story concepts
- Guidelines for story structure, including:
- Opening scenes that immediately grab the reader
– The five most common goals in Hollywood movies
– Why most adaptations fail
– The most effective use of flashbacks
– Creating emotionally powerful endings
- Tips for marketing a script—script consultants, script competitions, pitch fests, virtual pitching, e-mail blasts, log-line listings, audio script readings, and Internet resources for screenwriters
- A complete, in depth analysis of the screenplay for Avatar, the biggest box office success of all time
- Whether you’re an aspiring artist looking to break into the business or a seasoned pro looking for tips to boost your skills, Writing Screenplays that Sell is the one essential guide you need.
6. The Creative Screenwriter
It can be difficult to find a modern resource that teaches you the nuts and bolts of screenwriting while also allowing you the freedom to creatively thrive. This guide distills the craft of screenwriting into 12 key elements, from developing your story to revising and rewriting, plus plenty of inspiration to create your own screenplay with confidence.
Discover what to expect within the film industry and how it has evolved. Look behind the scenes at iconic films using a classic structure of screenwriting, along with experimental films from innovative writers that have transcended the rules and paved their own way to the silver screen. Then, get to the exciting part―writing―using a dozen tried-and-true rules of the trade. Each chapter is accompanied with an In the Writer’s Room creative exercise, such as formatting your script, mapping sequences, and creating rich dialogue and characters, to deepen your understanding of what brings a screenplay to life.
This screenwriting guide includes:
- Filmmaker’s dozen―From loglines to creating a compelling character to root for, you’ll find 12 fundamental but flexible steps to help you craft a powerful, creative screenplay.
- Topline terminology―Navigate the film biz like a pro with need-to-know Hollywood jargon, plus troubleshooting tips for any screenwriting hiccups along the way.
- Film archive―From William Goldman’s The Princess Bride to Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, discover emerging and timeless screenwriting techniques used in Hollywood blockbusters, micro-budget films, and more.
Take your story from creative conception to complete script with this modern, 12-step approach to screenwriting.
7. Finish the Script!
Based on actual class lectures and assignments, Finish the Script! offers an inside look into the screenwriting process as it’s author writes a screenplay from scratch along with the reader.
By taking a step-by-step approach to writing, Finish the Script!, ditches theory and focuses on the actual process. It’s a full college course squeezed into a book, complete with exercises and sample assignments. It shows how messy first drafts can be and how to fix problems and mistakes when doing a rewrite.
Stop worrying about getting the perfect treatment, exact structure, or fitting your story into a generic mold and start writing because it’s the only way you’ll finish your script.
8. Mind Your Business
Former Hollywood literary agent Michele Wallerstein explains the secrets of manoeuvering in the world of Hollywood screenwriters. The text includes chapters on the agent-client relationship, how to network successfully, and the differences between agents, personal managers, business managers and lawyers.
9. The Writer’s Journey
Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so.
10. Writing the TV Drama Series
This revised and updated edition is a complete resource for anyone who wants to write and produce for television drama series or create an original series, as well as for teachers in screenwriting classes and workshops. It leads the reader step-by-step through every stage of the development and writing process, offering practical industry information and artistic inspiration.
The Fourth Edition leads readers into the future and engages provocative issues about the interface between traditional TV and emerging technologies. It’s also the single most comprehensive source on what is happening in original television drama around the world, with surveys of 15 countries.
11. Writing Television Sitcoms
This new edition of Writing Television Sitcoms features the essential information every would-be teleplay writer needs to know to break into the business, including: – Updated examples from contemporary shows such as 30 Rock, The Office and South Park – Shifts in how modern stories are structured – How to recognize changes in taste and censorship – The reality of reality television – How the Internet has created series development opportunities – A refined strategy for approaching agents and managers – How pitches and e-queries work – or don’t – The importance of screenwriting competitions.
12. The Nutshell Technique
Veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain discovered in her work that an astounding 99 percent of first-time screenwriters don’t know how to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. In order to explain the difference, Chamberlain created the nutshell technique, a method whereby writers identify eight dynamic, interconnected elements that are required to successfully tell a story.
Now, for the first time, Chamberlain presents her unique method in audiobook form with The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting. Using easy-to-follow descriptions (“nutshells”), she thoroughly explains how the nutshell technique can make or break a film script. Chamberlain takes listeners step-by-step through 30 classic and contemporary movies, showing how such dissimilar screenplays as Casablanca, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo all have the same system working behind the scenes, and she teaches listeners exactly how to apply these principles to their own screenwriting. Learn the nutshell technique, and you’ll discover how to turn a mere situation into a truly compelling screenplay story.
Since its publication in 2016, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting was an instant classic. It is the go-to manual many professionals swear by, and it’s on the syllabus at film schools across the world, including the world-renowned screenwriting program at Columbia University. It has also been published in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Italian. This audio edition is wonderfully narrated by Sonja Field.
Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience. In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the “magic” of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.
14. Write to TV
In Write to TV (third edition) industry veteran Martie Cook offers practical advice on writing innovative television scripts that will allow you to finally get that big idea out of your head and onto the screen. With this book you’ll learn to craft smart, original stories and scripts for a variety of television formats and genres, including comedy, drama, pilots, web series, and subscription video on demand.
This new edition has been updated with expanded coverage on writing for global audiences, content creation for streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, as well as writing the web series, podcasts and utilizing free platforms such as YouTube. It also features new chapters on writing for niche markets; breaking into the writers’ room; creating binge-worthy series and how to accompany pilot scripts with a series pitch document. Plus, expanded information on creating complex and compelling characters including writing anti-heroes and strong female protagonists and much, much more.
Including information directly from studio and network executives, agents, and managers on what they’re looking for in new writers and how to avoid common pitfalls, advice from successful creators and showrunners on creating original content that sells, and tips from new writers on how to get into a writers room and stay there. This book contains information from more than 20 new interviews, access to sample outlines, script pages, checklists, and countless other invaluable resources, and is the ideal book for anyone who wants to break into the TV writing industry.
15. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach
The great challenge in writing a feature-length screenplay is sustaining audience involvement from page one through 120. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach expounds on an often-overlooked tool that can be key in solving this problem. A screenplay can be understood as being built of sequences of about fifteen pages each, and by focusing on solving the dramatic aspects of each of these sequences in detail, a writer can more easily conquer the challenges posed by the script as a whole.
The sequence approach has its foundation in early Hollywood cinema (until the 1950s, most screenplays were formatted with sequences explicitly identified), and has been rediscovered and used effectively at such film schools as the University of Southern California, Columbia University and Chapman University. This book exposes a wide audience to the approach for the first time, introducing the concept then providing a sequence analysis of eleven significant feature films made between 1940 and 2000:
The Shop Around The Corner / Double Indemnity / Nights of Cabiria / North By Northwest / Lawrence of Arabia / The Graduate / One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest / Toy Story / Air Force One / Being John Malkovich / The Fellowship of the Rings.
Let us know in the comments what your favorite screenwriting books are!