When I first began trying to write screenplays, I was totally in love but I was drowning. Here are six books that are helping me (slowly) get my head above water.
1. The Screenwriter’s Bible, David Trottier.
For all your technical questions and formatting needs. Read, worship, repeat.
2. Making a Good Script Great, Linda Seger.
I’d actually recommend this as the first screenwriting book you read, as it’s the first one I read. While this is designed to be read after you’ve got a script, I’ve found it’s helpful at any stage. It gets you thinking about your work at a macro level and is great with basic plotting.
3.The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri.
This is an old-school book that takes a huge step back and deals with story-making in a much more theoretical way. Many fancy people like Martin Scorcese are supposedly huge fans. I’ve found this text to be most useful as a way to get your mind spinning at the beginning of the writing process, or in between projects. Also great fun to read while drinking.
So this is technically two books, but they serve the same end so I’m counting them together. Books like these are obviously formulaic, but I think they’re still pretty interesting on a theoretical level. I’ve found them most helpful when working on plot/structural elements, as they can give you direction and force you to clarify your story if you’re not sure where to turn.
5. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler.
All about the hero’s journey and how it translates to writing screenplays. I found it to be much more accessible/relevant to my writing than Joseph Campbell’s original stuff, though I do think it’s worth it to seek out the Campbell if this interests you. Though it can feel formulaic , I’ve found this to be a book I continue to return to, and one that’s more useful the more you learn to make it your own. Plus, the analysis of The Lion King and Titanic at the end are just rad.
6. Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee.
This book belongs to a certain category of screenwriting books (Save the Cat, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, etc.)–that are hyper popular and purport to be the greatest thing to hit your screenwriting since sliced bread and Final Draft. While I”m generally wary of books in this category, I feel compelled to address them here. From what I can tell, Story is the best of them, and the one you’d be well-served to choose if you’re going to go the screenplay-in-a-box route.
Special bonus: additional resources!
The internet is full of so many screenwriting blogs that it can feel overwhelming. Here are two I’ve found that are actually useful:
- Wordplay. This is run by the guys who wrote Shrek and all these other animated movies. I very much recommend reading though it, particularly all the tips in this section. The “indy pros” section is also really sweet.
- Go Into the Story (official screenwriting blog of the fabled Black List).
Also, read a lot of scripts! When I am my ideal self I try to do one a week, and sometimes I mix it up and do a TV script instead of film. Two of my favorites, for example, are the scripts for Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and After Sunset. You can get a lot of scripts just by googling, and also from Daily Script.