The Top 10 Screenwriting Books

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

screenwriting books #1: Adventures In the Screen Trade

“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 GoldmanAdventures In The Screen Trade

screenwriting books #2: Art of Dramatic Writing Books for Screenwriters

Orchestration demands well-defined and uncompromising characters in opposition, moving from one pole toward another through conflict.”

—Lajos Egri, The Art Of Dramatic Writing

screenwriting books #3: Making A Good Script Great Screenwriters Books

“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

screenwriting books #4: On Directing Film Screenwriters Books

“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

screenwriting books #5: Save The Cat

“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

screenwriting books #6: Screenplay

“What’s the best way to open your screenplay? KNOW YOUR ENDING!” 

― Syd Field, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

screenwriting books #7: Screenwriters Bible

“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

screenwriting books #8: Story Robert McKee

“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?”

― Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

screenwriting books #9: Writing Movies For Fun and Profit

“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

screenwriting books #10: Writers Journey

“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

Question for you: What books are missing from this list?

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Discussion About The Top 10 Screenwriting Books

  1. John Michael Thomas

    Although there’s definitely some personal preference involved, you’ve hit on all the absolute musts I know of.

    Beyond that, I’m always on the lookout for great new tools, and excluding the ones on my shelf I haven’t gotten to yet, here’s some with great tools that I consider stand-outs.

    Wired for Story (Lisa Cron). I’m biased, since I’m an engineer & scientist at heart, but there’s some great epiphany’s here, with solid scientific evidence to back it up.

    The Little Blue Books (William C. Martel). There are alot of these, and I hate reading all of them because they’re so good they’re too slow to read – I have to stop every other sentence to write down notes. Great tools in abundance.

    ScriptShadow Secrets. Carson Reeves gets a lot of crap (some of it may be deserved), but even his detractors would be wise to read this – there’s some great tools in it.

  2. Pertinax

    Like the top ten bloggers you recently put forth, this is a big help for distilling down the wide selection of what’s available to just down to the essentials or the good stuff if you will.

    And….I’m sure there are many more other great titles out there. However, it’s really nice to have a recommended reading list to kick the feline…err, my summer off with. Thanks Stephanie.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Amazon.com has 3921 (!!) books on screenwriting available for purchase, so we are not lacking for options.

      • babu subramaniam

        I would also like to recommend Dr. Stanley Williams – THE MORAL PREMISE – a great book on screen writing along with Eugene Vale’s Technique of Screen and TV Writing –

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Appreciate the suggestions, Babu.

  3. Rob Ripley

    I’ve found Mamet’s ‘On Directing Film’ to be one of the most pragmatic and useful writing tools in terms of philosophy/approach.

    In addition to these terrific books mentioned in this post, Paul Chitlik’s ‘Rewrite’ is a great resource.

  4. Mark

    Pilar Alessandra’s ‘The Coffee Book Screenwriter.’ Much respected screenwriting teacher and more, Pilar breaks it down to 10 minute, very doable segments. A great resource to have.

  5. Nick Biiren

    Just finished “the 90-day screenplay” by Alan Watt. Good tools there to have in the tool box.

  6. Anthony Mouasso

    Here is another one. Gotta say it helped a lot during rewriting and rewriting stages if you see what I mean!… 😉

  7. Speedo

    There are sooooo many good ones..
    Syd Field’s Screenwriter’s Problem Solver
    William Martell’s bluebooks are a great help
    Bill Johnson’s Story is a Promise
    Linda Venis’ Cut to the Chase

  8. Kim Falconer

    Thank you for this list, Stephanie. Very supportive, and inspiring.

    We used Trottier in the scriptwriting units of an MA I just completed, and also Linda Aronson’s, “The 21st-Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films.” She has some great insights into parallel plots and multi-protagonist scrip development. Have you read her?

    Cheers again for your fabulous blog!

  9. Mark Kandborg

    Mamet’s book is often been recommended to me as a must-have, but having read it, I must disagree. Maybe it’s because I’m not “just” a writer nor “just” a director, but a writer, director, and actor, but I found most of Mamet’s advice here (if you can even call it that) to be ill-informed, ill-advised and at times downright dangerous. Not only is it flagrantly dismissive of the intricacies of directing (this would explain why everything Mamet has directed falls flat), preferring to see it as a point-the-camera-at-the-actors kind of enterprise, his dismissal, or complete ignorance of, the actor’s needs is even more acutely evident.

    A single example: he suggests that actors should be directed to reject the concept of the characters arc. They simply need to focus on the scene, he says. Not only is this wrong, it borders on insane. Without understanding where the character is within the arc of the story, there can be no honest representation of the of that character in that moment by the actor. And it is the director’s job to keep the actor fully aware of that situation. Arguably, in the setting of a live performance, the arc takes care of itself. Being organic and linear, the director needs to do less here. But on screen, with scenes shot out of order and much of the action taking place with the character absent, the guidance of the director is essential. Without it, all is lost.

    Unfortunately, this sort of missing-of-the-point is just what you’d expect from a gifted playwrite who is a lousy director attempting to elucidate how to be a great director.

    PASS

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Appreciate your comment, Mark. I like the debate!

    • Rob Caudy

      I am glad to finally find someone who also find Mamet’s book to be..let’s say…somewhat elitist. I know some great professors that are fantastic one-on-one but when in a room full of eager students, they tend to intellectualize subjects that deserve a simpler approach. In other words, it’s a way of saying “Look how smart I am. Aren’t you impressed?” The fact that the book is, in essence, a transcript of a university lecture, makes me think a similar thing was going on here. I haven’t read it in awhile, and maybe today I might get a better feeling about it, but when I read it for the first time I left with the impression that the guy was a jackass. However, it did have some valuable advice. But I think I could have made some notes and taken away a page or two of those things. I feel the same way for Aristotle’s “Poetics.” Sure, it’s great, and I’ll be vilified for saying this, but it certainly is not a necessary read in a contemporary context. Well, perhaps it is, but the content is covered more appropriately in most screenwriting books. HOWEVER, I have recommended Aristotle to many friends and students. Probably because I sometimes feel the need to prove how educated I am. :/

  10. kA'

    A cornerstone in my filmmaking library is alexander mackendrick’s ON FILMMAKING w/ foreward by martin scorsese. beyond the classroom at AFI, it’s proven to be a gem!

  11. Susanna

    This list is a great start. I would also suggest Linda Aronson’s book as well, in addition to two others: Jeff Kitchen’s _Writing a Great Movie_ and Dara Marks’s _Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc.

    Kitchen is a trained playwright and offers an important discussion of dilemma and an “Enneagram” to delineate character types. He also includes Polti’s 36 plot situations.

    I found that my students benefitted most from Marks’s work, as it’s one of the most in-depth studies of a protagonist’s inner journey, step by step, that is rooted in the thematic observation of his/her fatal flaw. It’s one of the few texts that ties that inner journey to the external events inherent in act structure in a thematic way (without needing to be myth-based). It’s a shift away from the upside-down checkmark (usually derived from Freitag’s pyramid) — her paradigm is a wave, a more organic story approach. It offers one of the best discussions of what really happens at the end of Act 2 internally that makes the protagonist able to accomplish the external objective and earn the climax of Act 3. Overall, it’s the best discussion of metamorphosis and character arc that I’ve come across. It’s concrete enough that student writers can apply the principles — and organic enough it transfers to other story forms easily.

    I used this text for several semesters and it helped solved a lot of problems for writers up front. So often the inner journey isn’t apparent until after several drafts — the principles here save a lot of time and rewrites. Highest recommendation.

  12. Lynelle

    I second the recommendation of Pilar Alessandra’s – COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER. I actually have the DVD version of the book and it was helpful while writing my first feature.

    I’d like to add Chad Gervich’s – HOW TO MANAGE YOUR AGENT: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD REPRESENTATION. Chad breaks down what agents are looking for in potential clients and how to work with your agent to generate career success.

  13. Helise Flickstein

    Dara Marks was already mentioned, but her book helped me personally. Richard Walter too! Any of Richard’s books.

  14. Floyd Marshall

    Definitely going to check out some of these books. Going to purchase a few right now. One book that I didn’t see on the list which is absolutely amazing and my go to reference is The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley. Excellent book.

  15. Pertinax

    With 3921 books on the topic, this might be a bit silly to ask…

    What do you think of Karl Iglesias’ book “Writing for Emotional Impact”?

    I stumbled across it’s inside cover while tromping around Scriptmag.com so to speak and it snagged my attention. Before I go searching underneath the sofa cushions for the change to pick up a copy.

    How useful would you consider his advice? Or perhaps has anyone here in this room read the title and found it helpful in their screenwriting?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Roberto

      Writing for Emotional Impact from Karl Iglesias is by FAR one of the best books about screenwriter.

      Why? Dialogue techniques, suspense techniques, how to create curiosity, interest and so on.

      IT’S AMAZING. PERIOD.
      I think is essential.

      And of course the great William C. Martell. Scene secrets blue book.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I know Karl Iglesias has lots of fans. I haven’t read Writing for Emotional Impact yet. I think any book that inspires you or gets you to think about screenwriting in a new way is worth reading and my “to read” list keeps getting longer…

      • Steven

        Impact is a “tools not rules” (to use a phrase from William Martell’s) book. The emphasis is on practice rather than abstract principles, so it can be used with any of the more theoretical approaches. Its main strength is the discussion of creating an emotionally involving experience for the audience (Iglesias focuses on readers, not viewers).

        If a story doesn’t involve the audience, then everything else is moot.

  16. Matt

    Only missing 3 of these books. Not bad. I strongly believe ‘Good in a Room’ to be equally as important, as is ‘The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters’. As you say, we are now spoilt for choice.

  17. Tim

    William Aker’s YOUR SCREENPLAY SUCKS will help you see the many annoying things that beginning screenwriters tend to do, and overdo, then do again … like being too repetitive.

  18. Frank D.

    I just moved Secrets of the Screen Trade by Allen B. Ury near the top of my list (tied with Your Screenplay Sucks). But, what do I know. I use Save the Cat to wrap up my cat’s poop.

  19. Frank Livorsi

    I’ve read most of those books, but, if you want to be a writer, get hold of anything Bill Martel has written . He’s the best.

  20. sky

    In the Blink of an Eye – Walter Murch & Making Movies – Sydney Lumet allowed me to become a better writer and filmmaker as they engage withe the medium and so does the writer need to, then reading the best screenplays I could find.

  21. Christopher Morley

    I’ve read most of these. It’s craft. Craft is great but, I have found, you can’t write art to craft. Every good writing is art IMHO. But craft alone won’t get you there. But craft, if you ingest it and steep yourself in it begins to seep out subconsciously tempering your art, helping you hone it on instinct, keeping it true to yourself and also in line with popular wisdom. I love the books I’ve studied. Someone who, for me, is the absolute best is John Truby, he hasn’t written a book but his courses are bar none, the best, in my opinion. So rich and packed with knowledge and wisdom and deep analysis. “Story” is great as well. Good luck you writers! Chris

  22. Bree

    Michael Arndt often quotes Brian Mc Donald’s Invisible Ink, and it’s an amazing book. Also anything in William Martell’s Blue Book Series is on my top ten list.

  23. Adam

    I highly recommend Alexander MacKendrick’s ‘On Film-Making’: ostensibly a book on directing (and based on class notes from his renowned University Of Southern California directing course), almost 3/4 of it is devoted to screenwriting.

    Also, J.J. Murphy’s book ‘Me & You & Memento & Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work’ is a great analysis of 20 ‘rule-breaking’ independent films.

  24. David

    John Truby’s “The Antomy of Story” is BY FAR the best screen writing book on the market.

  25. Lisa Kovanda

    I studied under Lew Hunter, so do love his Screenwriting 434, and his insistence that his students read Aristotle’s Poetics. Pilar spoke at our most recent Nebraska Writers Guild conference, and she was fabulous. Our non-screenwriting members loved how they could use her information as well. Great post, Stephanie, I just bought a couple books based on your–and subsequent commentator recommendations.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Lisa. I enjoyed meeting Lew Hunter a few years ago and he was full of great stories and advice.

      • Lisa Kovanda

        To me, the thing was that those agents, managers, producers, executives read about my job as a screenwriter. They make it a point to understand what I am supposed to be doing, why, and how. Study my craft. I get that. I study their jobs, too. It’s been helpful for me to know what the roles of above and below the line people are, because I have a better understanding of how they are analyzing my work, and the feasibility of actual production. There’s story, there’s craft, then there’s business.

    • James

      +1. Anyone interested in screenwriting books should read Screenwriting 434.

  26. Mary Ann Blinkhorn

    This is an excellent list. Thank you for sharing it. May I suggest adding, The Secrets of Action Screenwriting by William C. Martell.

  27. Adam

    Watch and deconstruct movies and genres. Watching movies is a skill. Work on developing that. Read scripts. Maybe choose one nuts and bolts type book. The Wordplayer website has a few articles in particular that would probably be far more useful than any screenwriting book. The MAMET book contains an approach to creating structure, the application of the principle of throughline, which stems from Stanislavski and is valuable to a thinking writer. Keep your tools simple and only use enough technique to free your unconscious. If you’re intimately familiar with some great films that speak to you, and you know them beat for beat, you’ve internalized structure. You don’t need to save anyone’s cat. Out of all of the professional writers I know, that’s a joke. Maybe just for wannabe’s who want to believe good writing isn’t complicated and apparently film executives who don’t really know anything about story.

  28. Lor Andahazy

    I’ve read them all. They’re all great. I’d add “Making Movies Work” by Jon Boorstin. Covers a lot of the collaborative craft and art in addition to writing.

  29. LVBoniface

    John Yorke’s “Into the Woods” is brilliant. How stories work and why we tell them. Quite academic, but fascinating – and very useful. Looks at the fundamental structure beneath all narrative forms.

  30. Matthias

    The “22 rules of Storytelling” by Pixar are awesome.
    There is also a FREE (and legal) pdf that analyses all of them:
    http://static.squarespace.com/static/52675998e4b07faca3f636a5/t/527f0a75e4b012bf9e7361c5/1384057461885/Pixar22RulesAnalyzed_Bugaj.pdf

  31. Colin Holmes

    Seems to me a few folks are missing the point.
    These aren’t necessarily the best books on writing for the screen, but the ones writers need to know because they’re the most familiar to the folks on the other side of the desk. This list is more about understanding the studio/producer/director’s frame of reference rather than the best how-to-write-it books.

    I’ve had a couple of producers and readers mention books on this list, but almost universally screenwriting pros seem to want to dismiss Save the Cat, just as directors tend to argue Mamet.

    • Steven

      STC can help a novice writer turn a bad script into a mediocre script, but it doesn’t get into the heart of things. Still, writers should know what a save the cat moment is, even if they don’t use that particular technique. The discussion of loglines in STC is pretty good.

  32. Jon Miles

    Great list. I agree about Poetics.

    It’s not about screenwriting but I still might add “Art and Fear” – a truly great but small book by two art teachers about what it means to be an artist in a commercial world. I read it like a Hoffer book – regularly.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0961454733/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0961454733&linkCode=as2&tag=twodragointer-20&linkId=AVBOFHOOFAGXG446

  33. Dava

    Does anyone have any suggestions of books on writing original tv scripts?

  34. Marcus Pidek

    Hi, Stephanie!

    Thanks for the list. I read more than half and own 4 of them. If the Goldman book has the line, Which lie did I tell?”, then I remember it as a great background book to the business of show business.

    I found Egri’s book dry and since it was meant for plays (I know, a story is a story, no matter what format) I left it.

    I have probably 4 books from Seger. I can’t fault her but I always get the feeling that she almost hit the nail on the head but I’m missing something.

    I didn’t read Mamet, I might. I am going through CINEMATIC STORYTELLING – THE 100 MOST POWERFUL FILM CONVENTIONS EVERY FILMMAKER MUST KNOW by JENNIFER VAN SIJLL. I love it. I’m looking for ideas to help me storyboard a 20 minute short I wrote for a local director. He was happily surprised I gave five characters arcs without losing steam in the story. I think it’s better.

    Anyway, I have all 3 Save The Cats and met Blake when he came through Toronto. The guy’s a prince and he left us too soon. His books were an eye opener and worth pondering. I do try to save a “cat” in every story I write. Once, it was actually a cat!

    I read some of Field’s stuff and it grated on me. Go figure. He talks a good game but I didn’t feel well guided.

    Yes, the BIBLE has come in handy.

    I don’t know McKee’s methods and his book costs too much to satisfy my curiosity. I know he inspired thousands but good speakers do that.

    I have Movies For Profit. You can’t knock success.

    I didn’t read Vogler’s Journey, it always looked dry. BUT, I have Voytilla’s MYTH AND THE MOVIES. He wrote it with Vogler’s blessing as a followup to JOURNEY and as the third man in line from Campbell’s line of thought. I liked it and highlighted the crap out of some of the pages. Now let me put a few out there for your consideration.

    First of all the ideal screenwriting book, I think, is written by a commercially successful screenwriter. So at the top of the list, writers should consider Bill Martell’s SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING. His book was out of print and I saw copies for up to $1,000 on ebay. I paid $100 for mine. Since then he revamped it and released it as a kindle. After I read it, my screenwriting professor said, “You can write action.”. That surprised me.

    I’m reading an old bio on George Lucas – interviews edited by Sally Kline. Picked up for light reading, I found myself high lighting some of his comments on writing and filming solutions. I was interested to learn how STAR WARS evolved.

    Now, let me give you seven books to see if you think any are worth your time. I highlighted the crap out of six of them.

    THE MORAL PREMISE by STAN WILLIAMS.

    THE SCREENWRITER WITHIN by D.B.GILLES.

    POWER SCREENWRITING by WALKER.

    SCREENWRITING IS STORYTELLING by KATE WRIGHT.

    THE INNER GAME OF SCREENWRITING by SANDY FRANK. I found Frank’s ideas to be memorable and unique.

    A little paperback called SCREENPLAY BY DISNEY by JASON SURRELL. Great advice, among other things, on the interconnections of characters and lead characters and subplots to the main plot.

    Finally, I haven’t started it yet but I got an old bio on James Cameron by Christopher Heard. Between Jim and George, they made a hell of an impact on the business and the world. Such greats should be required reading for anyone who is attracted to show business.

    Whoops, looks like I wrote a book instead of a letter. Sorry, got carried away. Marcus Pidek

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Marcus.

      • Roberto

        I forgot to mention: GREAT LIST.

        Story kickass.

    • Zeroed Out

      Wow. I think you’ve read more screenwriting books than I’ve actually seen in existence. lol I’ve only read two to completion — Linda Seger’s and one that I can’t remember — plus David Trottier’s, which I skimmed parts of, and that was more than enough for me. Reading screenplays is where I truly learned (and a couple of classes). Then again, I haven’t done anything huge … but I just love to write, so it doesn’t really matter much to me.

      Anyway … I’m torn on Martell. I used to be part of a message board that he frequented and he was always a very nice guy, but I couldn’t help but think … sure, he sells screenplays, but they’re also pretty crappy movies. Would I trust the writing advice of the guy who wrote Sharknado (which Martell didn’t write, but still…)? Hmm … maybe, I guess. lol Instead of spending $100 on his book — or even $10, for that matter — I would have spent that on a couple of lobster dinners while reading screenplays that you can find online by action writers for free and figuring it out myself. 🙂

  35. Zara

    Hi Stephanie

    Here is another Screenwriting book that I think is very special and very unusual!

    It’s called “The Creative Screenwriter – Exercises to expand your Craft”
    by Zara Waldebäck and Craig Batty

    It is not really like any other screenwriting book, since the whole text is made up of exercises by screenwriters for screenwriters, with different chapters for different areas (Structure, Character, Scene writing, Beginnings & Endings, Worlds, Dialogue, Pitching etc) plus a DIY Script Surgery at the end for trouble-shooting writing common problems

    Of course I think it is good since I wrote it! But it comes from years of experience, and I use it a lot with writers who over and over again say how helpful they find it. Linda Seger wrote a recommendation for the back of the book, so hope you all will like it too

    Many Thanks
    Zara

  36. Steve Cuden

    While these books are all excellent, I do highly suggest you consider adding 2 incredible books: Howard Suber’s “The Power of Film,” and Paul Chitlik’s, “Rewrite.”

  37. jguenther5

    Good list. I’ve read 5 and am familiar with a few of the others. I’ve read only one book on screenwriting that I didn’t like. I won’t mention the title, but it’s fairly well known. It started out great, flowed along well, then about 3/5 of the way in, it was as if someone else finished writing it. I couldn’t quite read all of it.

  38. Padraic Mc Mally

    May I suggest another title to add to your list that of Dramatica by Mealine Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley

  39. Tim Lorge

    I think someone asked about TV writing. The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler, The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus and Comedy Writing for Television and Hollywood by Milt Josefsberg are awesome.

    Also, I can’t say enough about John Truby. He is amazing. His approach to structure is very detailed and helps you create great stories. It is well worth the time studying his works.

  40. David Bishop

    Seconding all those people who nominated The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler [the chapter on rewriting a treatment is gold dust] and Into the Woods by John Yorke.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I love the TV Writer’s Workbook— thanks!

      • David Bishop

        I use the chapter on rewriting a treatment with my postgrad creative writing students. the simple act of replacing tells/says/explains with emotionally active verbs improves synopsis writing skills overnight!

  41. Karen

    I found both William Goldman’s books fantastic, his dry wit and insight wonderful but that’s me. Others recommend Lew Hunters 434, but I didn’t enjoy it at all as for me it lacked character development and arc, but he did recommend Poetics and that was very helpful. I don’t think therefore there’s a definitive list but rather books available and you find the one that works for you. Some of the best books that helped me as a screenwriter haven’t always been about screenwriting Virginia Woolf’s “A Room with a View”, Helen Keller’s “The World I Live In”, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” because the writers have such unique voices and are brilliant story tellers that encourage me to find my voice, express it and keep going no matter what.

    Screenwriting theories change all the time based on genre and the box office returns, if a new screenwriting book were to be published today I doubt very much that it would encourage screenwriting in the style of movies made in the seventies with inner conflict and arcs, but rather superhero’s in capes.

    I would also recommend Brian Kopplemen’s six second screenwriting classes you can follow him on Twitter, they’re encouraging and for anyone who needs an understanding voice. The thing to remember is when the student is ready the teacher will appear, and to open minded when comes to who the teacher will be.

  42. Tianna

    Thanks for this list!
    I was wondering if you knew whether or not any of these books focused more on dialogue?
    Thanks in advance!
    Tianna

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’d suggest Mamet’s On Directing Film. In addition, Mamet’s letter to writers of The Unit.

    • Roberto Carlos

      Story – Robert Mckee and Writing For Emotional Impact of Karl Iglesias are the best books out there about dialogue.

      The first one is very important because the writer need to understand that most of the time you need to open the gap between expectation and result in every line of dialogue. Especially in confrontations.

      And Writing for Emotional Impact gives you the tools to write engaging lines of dialogue. Most of the greats lines of dialogue use special techniques.

      Remember also that, most of the time, dialogue is about a third thing. Trialogue, as Mckee say. Characters will talk about China, wine, music, sex, crime (Pulp Fiction).

    • Sherif Ali

      Tianna,
      I strongly suggest: “Dialogue Secrets” – William C. Martell
      Best wishes!
      Sherif Ali

  43. Rahul Roshan

    I am grateful for this list. The key quotes you captioned below the books is EXTREMELY helpful. I’m a beginner here just working through Syd Field’s Screenplay. I am a bit overwhelmed to be honest because of the number of books. I have a silly question: do you always feel like you need to read more screenplay books, isnt there a point where you feel like you know enough?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Let’s differentiate between reading great screenplays and reading screenwriting books. After reading one or two screenwriting books, I suggest just reading great screenplays. The best learning (in my opinion) is from reading a screenplay and watching the same film and really paying attention to the structure. I detail how I suggest doing this in the post How To Write A Screenplay You Can Sell – Step 4.

      • rahul roshan

        i really appreciated that advice, thank you

    • Zeroed Out

      Rahul,

      Personally, I think 99% of screenwriting books are a waste of time, especially Syd Field’s. He never had anything produced, right? I agree with Stephanie about reading screenplays … THAT is where you will learn the most. Not just from award-winning ones, but various screenplays that got made. Even if a movie didn’t do well at the box office and even if it got panned, SOMETHING about the writing allowed it to go up the ladder.

      Unfortunately, what you’ll find is that no matter how many books you read on the subject or how many scripts you read, producers are very fickle. It’s even worse these days, as we’ve seen a deep decline in sales of original scripts (in part because the studios are award of pirates).

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks for your comment. Appreciate it.

      • jguenther5

        Yes, it’s perfectly true that many books on screenwriting are written by people with very thin imdb resumes. Doesn’t matter. They know things you don’t know, things you won’t learn from reading scripts. If you know nothing about the craft, you won’t understand what’s happening in a script. For just one example, if you’ve never been introduced to subtext, you may not realize what’s being accomplished in key dialogue. The craft is deep and it’s the realm of people who constantly expand their knowledge and experience, not people who say, “I know all that.”

        And, yes, you’re right, producers can be “fickle.” That reflects industry norms, lore, history, markets, and, above all, fear of shooting a flop. More relevant to you and me, however, it’s no reason to stop studying the craft…unless you don’t love it.

      • David

        Rahul — you seem to be under the impression that if one can read a screenplay, they should be able to write a screenplay. Or as one screenwriter told me, most people think they know how to give notes on a screenplay because they no how to read.

        You’re also assuming that the good screenwriters didn’t read screenwriting books. A major flaw in your conclusion about studying the movies that got made is that there are so many different variable that take place that lead to a screenplay getting made, that you can’t use the end as a guide to learning how to write. If a certain A-list star likes a particular script, and they are bankable enough to get the movies made, that doesn’t help you as someone learning to write. If script A is chosen over script B because half of it is set in China and that gets it Chinese financing, picking that movie to study does you know good.

        What should be studied is the process and not the end result. Just because someone doesn’t have a slew of IMDB credits doesn’t have they haven’t sold dozens of scripts. Many of the best screenwriters are script doctors who are rewriting scripts where their names never appear. Most movies bought are not made, good and bad ones. Many get tossed aside because a studio chief was fired and the new person gets rid of everything in development.

  44. Alejandra

    Hal Ackerman’s “Write a screenplay that sells”! It’s terrific! !

  45. Jeffery

    John Jarrell’s, “Tough Love Screenwriting” and “The 90 Day Screenplay” by Alan Watts are excellent.

  46. Hector J B

    In college, our text books were Screen writing bible, Making a good script great and How to write a screenplay in 21 days. As for formatting, they’re all the same, I haven’t found a book that speaks on styles of writing. Like what Hollywood looks for in the way the writer expresses himself. What I see so far in script style is fragmented sentences to express the action as if to bait the reader to continue reading. What’s up with that. I’m doing it also…now, but why that way. Also why the so called rule that anyone that hasn’t made it continue to express, “FIRST TIME WRITERS, write 90 pages, but no more then 100.” and if the reason is that people don’t really like to read, and they do not know you, then why are they in the business of making pictures? What too many scripts? Hire readers that are working with production companies and the studios. If they are working and I mean, grips electricians and PA’s they are more willing to read what could be something great instead of a reader that’s not getting paid and might lie about reading the number of scripts given to them. The already working have more incentive to read because they’re already working. I don’t know maybe its like that already. I’m far away from Hollywood.

  47. Rob Caudy

    “The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay” and/or “How to Build a Great Screenplay: A Master Class in Storytelling for Film,” both by David Howard.
    Also, “On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director,” by Alexander Mackendrick. While it is primarily for directing, it has really valuable information on screenwriting.
    My 2 cents.

  48. Patricia Zell

    I have been reading AFI’s Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV by Dona Cooper and it is helping me a lot. After receiving some in-depth coverage on my scripts, I turned to this book and found out that my dramatic center wasn’t working. I’m changing it, among other things, and these changes should help me vastly improve my scripts.

  49. Eli

    I have 6 of the ten books listed. But William Martell’s blue books really taught me how to put it together. And because of his books I analyze movies better and now I can pinpoint exactly where the acts begin and end. You can learn a lot just by watching. I watched the recent movie comedy WALK OF SHAME..and after watching that movie. I say ok I got it. And later went back watched MAN OF STEEL..ok I said I definitely got it. Both movies are not structured the same but as William Martell wrote ..when you watch what happens to the character you can nail the beginning and end of each acts everytime no matter how the movie is structured.

  50. Mic Worthy

    I have “Save The Cat” and “The Screenwriter’s Bible”. Another handy guide is “Dr Format” by David Trottier, which is a frequently asked questions handbook for TSB.

  51. ronbrassfield

    I’ve read all but two of your book list, Stephanie, plus about five dozen other books on the craft, and about a dozen books on the life and business. I really need to grab Mamet’s title, there, and read it, too; he’s one of the greatest. The first “other” title I thought of which have been mentioned here, and I see has been by some others, is Karl Iglesias’ “Writing for Emotional Impact.” Other first-class screenwriting books are “The Story Solution” by Eric Edson and “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby; also, “Story Structure Architect” by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and “The 21st Century Screenplay” by Linda Aaronson are very useful to have around for dipping into when dealing with various aspects of screenwriting. Beginning with the end in mind is a wise idea; therefore, I’d also recommend Drew Yanno’s “The Third Act.” For developing characters, every writer, in my opinion, should have copies of William Indick’s “Psychology for Screenwriters,” “The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits” by Linda N. Edelstein, and another by V. L. Schmidt, “45 Master Characters.”

  52. Carole

    Thanks for this list. Two are missing though : Yves Lavandier’s Writing Drama and John Truby’s Anatomy of Story.

  53. Don Mousted

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for all the great information! I’ve read about half the books on your list and am currently umbilically attached to “The Screenwriter’s Bible,” especially for formatting. I’ve also read a lot of others that are somewhat related in that they had to do with script writing for plays, which, in some ways, is much easier than writing screenplays. Not terribly fond of much that David Mamet has to say (except for his scripts) because of his “actors are cattle” attitude. Maybe I shouldn’t be prejudiced!
    Don Mousted

  54. Kennedy

    Lots of useful books, but oh my god is there a lot of useless redundancy, complete fabrication, imagined gospel and (sometimes instantly) out dated drek.

    http://greatfakes.blogspot.ca/2015/07/how-to-write-books-about-screenwriting.html?m=1

  55. Lee

    These books are invaluable but i think reading amazing scripts is just as important. Two i cant recommend enough are Nebraska and Micheal Clayton, they are beautifully written, enjoy!

    http://www.paramountguilds.com/pdf/nebraska_screenplay.pdf
    http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~ina22/splaylib/Screenplay-Michael_Clayton.pdf

  56. David

    Also, Stephanie, I would include The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley. It’s probably the best book on standard feature and television screenplay formatting.

    • Brian Atkins

      Hi Stephanie, I think I will be able to do this blog thing lol. My response to David is from what I read in I believe the Screenwriters Bible, the Hollywood Standard which I have is from the shooting script viewpoint.

  57. Steve Mitchell

    Great list Stephanie. I found Lennon and Garant’s book particularly valuable. It’s succinct and it has a lot of CURRENT info about the other side…business, credits, payments, agents etc. Plus it’s really funny. Still haven’t taken their advice and moved to LA though:)

  58. Tom

    Can screenwriting be learnt from a book or teacher? Isn’t it an art?

  59. Elliot Grove

    Greetings from London England and it’s good to see a couple of Raindance tutors included in your list: ie: the sadly departed Syd Field, and the enigmatic Christopher Vogler. I’d like to add two books to your excellent list which I have found most useful:

    Anatomy of Story by John Truby whose work on genre is most interesting and useful to fellow British screenwriters, and,

    The Virgin’s Promise by the Canadian philospher, poetess and script consultant Kim Hudson. We here in London have found her non-linear story theories, and how she thinks that movies like FIGHT CLUB are actually feminine stories has changed the ways people like Tom Hooper plan and write stories like the Danish Girl.

  60. topics for speech writing

    Wow! Thank you! I permanently needed to write on my blog
    something like that. Can I implement a portion of your post to my website?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You are welcome to include an excerpt as long as you link back to this post.

  61. Randy O'Brien

    I’ve read many of these and taught creative writing and scriptwriting using a couple as textbooks. Just read them all. You never know what might click for you.

  62. Beth Barton

    I’ve found “Screenwriting is Rewriting” by Jack Epps Jr to be enormously helpful.

    Unfortunately most of these books, including Epps’, are about movie screenplays. For someone like me who is more interested in writing for TV series, this means adapting the advice on structure to suit.

  63. Julian Friedmann

    Lajos Egri’s late book THE ART OF CREATIVE WRITING is far better and more relevant to screenwriters. And Syd Field is so passé and formulaic. John Yorke’s INTO THE WOODS is a much more helpful book.

  64. Djabil Mugisha

    Thank you for the list, but I would like to know which one teaches to write focusing on the acting of characters not on the dialogue and I think that could be artistically writing. Thank you