THE BEST SCREENWRITING BOOKS are those that encourage creative screenwriting and provide thorough instruction on the craft of screenwriting. The best screenplay writing books are also those that explain in layman's terms the craft of "story making." This list is presented not in order of importance, but in an order which we feel would be ideal for reading - from beginner to advanced. However, the books presented here can also stand alone and may be all you need to write your Oscar-winning or blockbuster screenplay and then your own "BEST SCREENWRITING BOOK." Enjoy and please share with your filmmaking friends.
"Just don't take a class where you have to read BEOWULF." -- Woody Allen
Many advanced screenwriters would say that "Screenplay" by Syd Field is the quintessential screenwriting book for the absolute beginning screenwriter. We beg to differ! Now, to the extent that creative screenwriting is encouraged, we wouldn't say that this book focuses on that. But, Screenplay is ideal for the beginning screenwriter however, advanced screenwriters will also find this screenwriting book very helpful. It's a great book to reference back to when stuck on certain plot issues. This book is so essential because the parts of a screenplay are discussed. Every screenplay from Disney's Snow White to Pulp Fiction is built on the principles taught in this book. It won't teach you how to juxtapose your story to create a Pulp Fiction type of story, but once you know the fundamentals of screenplay structure, you'll understand how the parts fit the whole and how they can be manipulated brilliantly to create a great story.
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"A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end. " -- Aristotle
Creative screenwriting hinges on an understanding of the basic structure of screenwriting. Screenplay structure terms can be daunting and confusing. "What the heck is a plot point, again?" you ask... Well, after you read Syd Field's classic "Screenplay", it'd be a good idea to go back to the philosophical origins of story. Since the days of Aristotle and other men in robes, story has been analyzed down to its atomic parts. To help you understand references to words like "plot" and "character" and "tragedy" and "inciting incident", there's a wonderful quick reader written by Michael Tierno called "Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters." Tierno decodes Aristotle's classic text on story "Poetics". He applies Aristotle's philosophy to screenwriting masterfully. And it's a bit inspiring as well. After reading this. Screenplay structure will make a bit more sense if you're a newbie. It's also an excellent book to go back to as you become more advanced.
More on "Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters" can be found here: Poetics for Screenwriters Reader Reviews
The legendary 1940s text by Joseph Campbell has inspired such filmmakers as George Lucas and Steven Speilberg. The book was so influential that a PBS Special Series was done on Joseph Campbell and the book. The Hero With A Thousand Faces looks at the very similar pattern of stories and myths from across the world and how they all express a structure of a Hero called to action. The book is a bit dense with plenty of examples. This is a book that should be read in chunks because it's so packed with information. This book is also great at helping you to understand story, and story is the lifeblood of screenplays. Amazing how many screenwriting books reference this book! Also, a good one for creative and intuitive screenwriters.
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Okay, so you know a little about screenplay structure and story. But what about formatting? How do you put together a screenplay visually? How do you prepare it for sale? Enough on screenplay theory - or at least, take a break from it. This is an excellent book for screenplay structure. The content is a little light on structure and story, but "Screenwriter's Bible" is a great book for those interested in formatting and beginning to build a screenplay on the page.
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"Screenwriting Updated" by Linda Aronson takes your screenwriting knowledge to the next level. You know the basics, you understand what's going on in a screenplay. This book is awesome. Aronson gets into the various types of screenplays currently being written. And although written in 2001, it is VERY timely as screenplays still fall into one of her categories of scripts. It is here that you will see a very detailed structural chart - the plot and all the in-betweens. She takes the simple story of Cinderella and breaks it down into screenplay structure. She makes everything simple. She discusses and analyzes the screenplays of Pulp Fiction, The Piano, Shine, American Beauty, and a few more films. She breaks down The Piano in full. The challenging "Act II" is discussed in detail as well. This is just a great book. We guarantee your highlighter will get a workout with this book.
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If we took a poll, it'd be a good guess that "writing dialogue" would be neck and neck with "writing Act II." Dialogue is an essential aspect of screenwriting. Most new writers and even advanced writers have difficulty writing dialogue. There's the tendency to crowd backstory into screenplay dialogue to the point where it comes off as wooden or inauthentic. "Aspects of the Screenplay" is a little-known screenwriting book that actually takes time to discuss dialogue writing in screenplays. Most screenwriting how-to's gloss over the subject. We recommend this book mainly for dialogue writing. The portion regarding structure can be helpful but it is not as strong as say, Linda Aronson's "Screenwriting Updated."
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So, you know screenplay structure, you know story structure, you know screenplay formatting. What next? Read a couple scripts to see it all in action. Juno and The Shawshank Redemption are two great screenplays that are excellent reading for education as well as entertainment.
"I think we write stories and listen to stories looking for the “touched by the divine” moment. All stories are about transformation, and that change comes with a crushing truth about ourselves." -- Blake Snyder
"Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder is, we believe, the newest classic screenwriting text. On so many levels it demystifies the screenwriting process. His process for simplifying the screenwriting process is ingenious. All of the things learned from Syd Field's "Screenplay" is made easier to digest. Before his untimely death, Blake Snyder had several of his screenplays optioned including "Blank Check" the surprise hit movie 1994 movie, and "Nuclear Family" which he sold to Steven Speilberg. He instructs screenwriters on making your screenplay "high concept" by appealing to the reader/viewer's primal urges. Simple themes that everyone can relate to. A great book. One that we think should be the final book on your bookshelf. The followup to "Save the Cat" is "Save the Cat Goes to the Movies" where Snyder breaks down 50 great films based on his now very popular "Blake Snyder Beat Sheet." If your goal is to sell your screenplay for six figures. These two books are must-haves.
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NEW SCREENWRITING BOOK 2012: Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless
"Writing in Pictures is a refreshingly practical and entertaining guide to screenwriting that provides what is lacking in most such books: a clear, step-by-step demonstration of how to write a screenplay.
Seasoned screenwriter and writing teacher Joseph McBride breaks down the process into a series of easy, approachable tasks, focusing on literary adaptation as the best way to learn the basics and avoiding the usual formulaic approach. With its wealth of useful tips, along with colorful insights from master screenwriters past and present, this book is invaluable for anyone who wants to learn the craft of screen storytelling."
SCREENWRITING: THE SEQUENCE APPROACH
WHY WE LOVE THIS BOOK AS WELL...
Let's say you know the parts of a screenplay - that you know Acts 1-3, and that you know what your plot points are at the end of Act 1 and Act 2, and that you know what your midpoint plot point is, and that you know how your character will grow from beginning to end. Let's say you know all of this...how do you then start writing your screenplay? What do you put in between those plot points to build your story? You use sequences. Sequences are groups of scenes that make up a beginning, middle and end within important points in your screenplay. According to SCREENWRITING: THE SEQUENCE APPROACH, there are 7-15 sequences in a film. Apparently, the sequence was born out of the fact that in the olden days, when film was shot in 11 minute intervals (coinciding with a reel of film), writers and directors had to make each 11 minute span meaningful before the next reel was loaded. It is an effective approach today because it keeps the audience engaged, and for the screenwriter it keeps the story moving forward in compelling beats within the confines of screenplay plot points. For instance, to get from the disturbance to the 1st Act Turning Point, you must write a sequence that will get your character(s) from the disturbance to the 1ATP. It's much easier for the writer to say, hey, this happens at the disturbance, then this happens at the 1ATP... how can I get my main character there? Easy, write a series of scenes that will move your character from point A to point B. This is essentially the sequence approach. GIVE THIS BOOK A READ when you're comfortable with your screenplay's structure and you're ready to write. Loads of examples in the book too. Happy writing
**NEW** - HOW TO WRITE GROUNDHOG DAY
"Why aren’t all movies as good as "Groundhog Day"? Did screenwriter Danny Rubin know what he was doing when he wrote it? That it would star Bill Murray and become a hit? That it would become a touchstone for major religions? That psychologists would come to prescribe the movie to their patients?
Follow this unique screenplay’s exciting journey through agents, directors, studios, stars and the writer’s own confused brain to emerge as one of the most delightful and profoundly affecting comedies of all time. For movie lovers and screenwriters alike, "How To Write Groundhog Day" includes the original screenplay, notes, scene sketches, and a personal tour of the Hollywood writing process from this popular screenwriting teacher."
SCREENWRITING FOR TEENS (& KIDS)
Review from Celeste Thomas - Amazon.com:
I read a article in MovieMaker Magazine about teen filmmakers and it mentioned this book. I checked out some websites and looked at some movies made by teens and it was great.
I'm a 22 year old filmmaker and I wanted to read this book. I may not be a teen, but it does not matter. This book explains things other books don't. You pretty much have to learn this stuff on your own. Like it talked a lot about getting good pictures and sound from your camera. Just great stuff.
Why didn't they write this book 7 years ago. I would have been making movies over and over again when I was 15 years old. They make the process so open. I read film books for adults and I couldn't understand that stuff at the time, so I waited until college.