If you want to know how to write a screenplay, you have to read screenwriting books.
So it’s no surprise that screenwriters have strong opinions about the best screenwriting books.
Let’s look at how screenwriting books can help us do more than write screenplays.
Screenwriting books can also help us SELL screenplays.
Screenwriting Books Are Languages
The best books on screenwriting are languages spoken by creatives and decision-makers.
Even though most screenwriting books make many of the same points, each screenwriting book uses a slightly different language.
Decision-makers tend to have a favorite screenwriting book or two – and that means that they can only talk about screenplays (intelligently) in the languages used by those screenwriting books.
Screenwriting Books Help You Sell
If you want to sell a screenplay (at some point), you’ll need to convince someone to buy it.
It will help you tremendously if you know the different screenwriting books so that you can speak the different screenwriting languages.
That way, you’ll be prepared when a decision-maker says:
- “We need a ‘save the cat’ moment here.”
- “I wish this was better orchestrated.”
- “Can you make him a little more ‘flawed-but-amazing’?”
Instead of making rookie mistakes, you’ll understand exactly what they mean.
Then, you can use the screenwriting terms that the decision-maker prefers.
That makes you much more likely to sell your script (or get hired).
That said, and with the caveat that what follows is my opinion, here are the ten screenwriting books referenced more often by agents, managers, executives, stars, and directors.
Top 10 Screenwriting Books
“The single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person knows for a certainty what’s going to work.”
― William Goldman, Adventures In The Screen Trade
“Orchestration demands well-defined and uncompromising characters in opposition, moving from one pole toward another through conflict.”
—Lajos Egri, The Art Of Dramatic Writing
“When we look at films, we usually see only the action. Yet it is the decision to act that helps us understand how the character’s mind works.”
— Linda Seger, Making A Good Script Great
“You always want to tell the story in cuts. Which is to say, through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected.”
— David Mamet, On Directing Film
“The ‘Save the Cat’ scene is where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”
― Blake Snyder, Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
“What’s the best way to open your screenplay? KNOW YOUR ENDING!”
― Syd Field, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
“If the character raises her cup of coffee to her lips, that’s not important enough to describe… unless there’s poison in the cup.”
— David Trottier, The Screenwriter’s Bible
“When inspiration sparks the desire to write, the artist immediately asks: Is this idea so fascinating, so rich in possibility, that I want to spend months, perhaps years, of my life in pursuit of its fulfillment? Is this concept so exciting that I will get up each morning with the hunger to write? Will this inspiration compel me to sacrifice all of life’s other pleasures in my quest to perfect its telling? If the answer is no, find another idea. Talent and time are a writer’s only assets. Why give your life to an idea that’s not worth your life?”
“The main character must be the kind of flawed-but-amazing character a movie star wants to play.”
— Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon, Writing Movies For
Fun And Profit
“It is a very strong rule in drama, and in life, that people remain true to their basic natures. They change, and their change is essential for drama, but typically they only change a little, taking a single step towards integrating a forgotten or rejected quality into their natures.”
― Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers