I’m a huge advocate of self-educating, and one of the best ways you can do this in screenwriting is by reading. Study scripts. Keep tabs on entertainment industry news sources. Scour popular screenwriting blogs and websites. Read books! Learn how to write a script, how to nurture your inner artist, and how to sell your screenplay. We live in the age of information. Grab yourself a seat and start learning. Here are the 5 best screenwriting books for aspiring writers:
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“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting is one of the most popular screenwriting books around. It’s a “classic,” if you will. Syd Field originally wrote this groundbreaking breakdown in 1979, and it’s been updated regularly since then (because we all know times are changing. The Foundations of Screenwriting walks you through everything from structure to getting an agent. This is one best screenwriting books available because it’s hearty, honest, and full of detail. Check it out if you need a little guidance on screenwriting basics.
“To be a screenwriter is to deal with an ongoing tug of war between breathtaking megalomania and insecurity so deep it takes years of therapy just to be able to say, ‘I’m a writer,’ out loud.”
Blake Snyder streamlined modern story structure using something called Blake Snyder Beat Sheets. The structure suggests that you can break up a story into 15 major plot points. Those 15 beats can be expanded into 40 detailed beats (Check out how to outline your story using index cards with Snyder’s Beat Sheet). The title Save the Cat comes from a term Snyder created. It refers to the first time the audience meets the protagonist. In this moment, they save a cat or do something that makes the audience like that person.
“Simply sending out your script is perhaps the LEAST likely way to get [an agent]. Sending out your script unsolicited is about as appealing to agents as a cold call from a discount butt sandwich company. A method that will have a much higher success rate would be to write a short script, funny, scary, or touching, and SHOOT IT.”
This book was recommended to me by an Emmy award winning writer. I love it because it cuts to the chase, no punches pulled. Writing Movies for Fun and Profit talks about how you should focus on writing a script that sells, which might go against the heart but for the wallet. All in all it makes great career sense. Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Grant are working writers, so they know what they’re talking about. There is a lot of great advice about navigating Hollywood. Know your industry!
“Different writers have different strengths. Some are good with story structure, some with dialogue, some are related to the producer.”
Writing Television Sitcoms was recommended to me by a showrunner’s assistant, so I had to read it. Evan S. Smith walks you through your spec script via writing theory. The book also takes you through developing an episode of television and how to launch your career. Writing Television Sitcoms reads like a college course, which makes sense considering he’s a screenwriting professor at Syracuse. This is one of the best books on writing a sitcom pilot that I’ve read.
“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”
Julia Cameron is a writing guru. After I read her book The Right to Write, I was hooked. She talks about the mental and emotional parts of writing, like letting go of fear and keeping yourself inspired. If you struggle with confidence and productivity, she’s someone you need to read. Sometimes, her books can get a little “spiritual.” This threw me off at first, but it’s not overwhelming. Push past it if that’s not your thing because the knowledge she’s giving you is so, so valuable. The Artist’s Way is definitely one of the best screenwriting books for aspiring writers and professionals alike.