There are so many screenwriting books out there that it is easy to get lost. And they often repeat the same concepts so you can feel like you are reading the same book over and over again. This guide will help you choose what to read, so that you can learn as much as possible about the craft without spending hours reading the same concepts over and over again.
When learning screenwriting, we think you should start from learning all the main structure paradigms. Then you can complement your knowledge with more specific readings focusing on single elements such as character or dialogue. Here is our ‘must-read’ list:
Essential books about structure
“Screenplay” by Syd Field
One of the very first books ever written about the craft. It focuses on the three-act structure and it is the book that introduced today commonly used terms such as “turning point” and “pinch”. It presents a barebone layout of how screenplays should be written and it laid the foundations for most of the book that followed. An absolute must-read as any screenwriter in the industry has read it at least once.
“Story” by Robert McKee
Robert McKee is considered the most important screenwriting teacher living today. His “Story” is a deep analysis of the craft and it introduces many useful concepts such as the “controlling idea” and the “gap between expectations and result”. This book is an absolute classic and it should definitely be on your reading list.
“The writer’s journey” by Christopher Vogler
Vogler adapts the work of Joseph Campbell (“The hero with a thousand faces”) and adapts it to screenwriting to create what he considers the guide for success for Hollywood producers. The structure he proposes has mythological origins and for this very reason, it is supposed to feel familiar with all audiences. There are many great films that followed his paradigm: George Lucas created “Star Wars” focusing on this blueprint.
“Into the woods” by John Yorke
“Into the woods” is the best-selling screenwriting book in the UK and it is required reading on most university degrees. The book is based on the idea that all stories share the same blueprint because they reflect the way our brain makes sense of the world. It also introduces the five-act story structure that is widely used in TV drama.
“The anathomy of story” by John Truby
Truby introduces the art of writing stories in 22 steps. It is the method behind a few of Hollywood most successful films such as “Sleepless in Seattle”, “Scream” and “Shrek”. Again, the book borrows concepts from philosophy and mythology, while providing new techniques that are quite insightful. It is considered essential reading not just for screenwriters, but also novelists and journalists.
Essential books to expand your knowledge
“Save the cat” by Blake Snyder
Snyder introduces his own Beat Sheet that describes where each beat of your story should be, even naming the page number on which certain plot moments should happen to keep your story moving. Although one could consider it a bit formulaic, it is a must-read because it describes well what Hollywood is expecting from screenwriters. We know several production companies ask their script readers to read this book before writing coverage for them. So you may like this or not, but you won’t be able to escape from this book.
“The art of dramatic writing” by Lajos Egri
This is one of the oldest books on dramatic writing, but also one of the most effective. Although it was originally aimed at playwriters, everything it touches on applies to screenwriting as well. It is particularly useful because it presents you with scene that are not working and it explains you why. Then it compares them with well-written scenes and it illustrates why they are better. It can really help you get better at writing single scenes.
“Making a good script great” by Linda Seger
Linda Seger is probably the top Hollywood script doctor today. She was a student of Syd Field and she build on his ideas to help you bring your script to the next level. It focuses on rewriters, which are probably the most difficult part of the writing process, and it’s an interesting read if you are getting stuck after the first draft of your project.
We could continue this list forever, but we are confident that these are the essential books you should start from. After you have read these ones, you can decide if you want to read more or if this is enough for you. If you keep reading, you’ll probably find many concepts repeated. Remember, reading manuals is great for inspiration, especially when you are stuck on a project and you feel like you are not progressing anymore, but there is nothing better to learn how to write than writing itself. The more you write, the better you become. And if you need feedback on your scripts we are here to help.