One of the questions that comes up often is what books would I recommend for an aspiring or novice screenwriter to read? Here are a few standard suggestions for learning basic formatting guidelines and story structure.
This is not an exhaustive list and merely recommendations. Start with the basics and go from there. Once you have formatting down and an understanding of story structure, you can explore some of the deeper dives.
As always, apply your newfound knowledge to what works best for you and your story. There are no hard and fast rules. Take what you need, leave the rest.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
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.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
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.
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
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.
500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader: Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend by Jennifer Lerch
If Your Screenplay Can’t Get Past the Hollywood Reader, It Can’t Get to Hollywood
This ultimate insider’s guide to screenwriting is designed to get you past the fiercest gatekeepers in Hollywood: the Hollywood script readers. This small army of freelancers will be among the first to read and evaluate your script and then to recommend it — or not — to the studios, directors, and stars.
Designed for quick and easy access, these 500 points are a step-by-step recipe. They cannot guarantee success, but failure to follow them can almost certainly guarantee failure.
Written by an industry insider who has recommended scripts that have sold for as much as one million dollars, this is the only book to show you what the Hollywood Reader wants to see. Clear, smart, and completely authoritative, 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader is by far the simplest, most practical book ever to hit the entertainment shelf.
The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting by Jill Chamberlain
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.
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.
On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (A Memoir of the Craft) by Stephen King
ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME
Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.
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