Screenwriting : Best Screenwriting Books by Tiffany D Brooks

Tiffany D Brooks

Best Screenwriting Books

What are the best books used to start your screenwriting journey.

Joe E. Ironstand

Screenwriting by Syd Field. Also Story by Robert McKee are good ones to start with.

Robert Sprawls

I like "Anatomy of Story" by Truby. It provides a good framework and he goes on to say don't use it as a cast in stone formula, but as a guideline. He seems to value story as the foundation and that appeals to me. Also, "The Screenwriter's Bible" is awesome for format and writing for spec.

Tiffany D Brooks

Thanks so much guys, Ill look into these.

Megen Musegades

Hi Tiffany, I took a poll on best screenplay books and posted the list on my blog.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

No-one mentioned "Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder? Syd Field and the others are great, but you must memorize Save the Cat! Why? Because all the readers have, trust me. :) Oh, sorry Megan, I just checked your list.

Robert Sprawls

I don't mention "Save the Cat" because it's a hard and fast formula that didn't work for the author. His two produced screenplays were big flops. Syd Field I have no experience with.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Several good suggestions. I liked David Mamet's book titled 'On Directing'. After reading it, I had the impression it was more like 'On Storytelling'. But it's Mr. Mamet's book and he can call it anything he likes. :) [ It's a small book with big print so I think it should be a favorite with film students everywhere. :) ] One particularly appealing moment to me in the book was when he addressed the issue of the 'what comes next problem'. As I remember, in essence, his point was that once you are into the story, as far as the next story beat, based on what has come before, there is only one next right story moment.

Denise Violante

this helps me also tnx

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Robert, I couldn't agree more. I wrote, then deleted from my original post, (due to my "avoid negativity" rule) that "I never experienced writers block till I read Save the Cat." The thing is, that as a Hollywood denizen, with screenplays that are a long way up the ladder, studio readers quote Blake Snyder in their notes relentlessly. The readers aren't wrong either, it just seems they are applying a punch card template to try to evaluate story structure in a painfully brief amount of time. My joking advice to someone was "write your screenplay then add Save-the-Cat-isms for protection." Syd Field on the other hand, I regard as a grown up in the industry, and a very wise man, if a little long-winded. I did notice that something called "Ride Along" just got made. I also noticed that I didn't go to see it.

Robert Sprawls

You know where I get the most writer's block? Dialog. Making it dynamic but believable and not on the nose.

Tiffany Michelle

I actually liked Save the Cat! It was the first book on screenwriting that I bought, just based on reviews. It was a quick read and really clear. I probably didn't take the formula as serious as the book suggests, but it helped me actually finish my first script. I also used The Screenwriter's Bible for format and found it great, though I still had some formatting questions that I think get answered better in a class. I also recently bought The Hollywood Standard and found it more directorial but still informative. I did read Screenplay by Syd, but found it the hardest to read. It was a bit long winded and I had to force myself to push through. It was very informative though and is a must read for that reason. Another I enjoyed was by Michael Hauge called Writing Screenplays that sell (also an easy read). I read How not to Write a Screenplay by Flinn, but that one wasn't necessary-- though as I said, you can find something helpful in just about anything. I'm a big reader and found that most of what I read has been helpful-- you just have to find the bit that is helpful to you and create your own style (within Hollywood rules of course). I also found that after reading these books, the intro class I took only reinforced all of these authors and clarified some minor questions I had. So instead of needing to spend hundreds on a class, the books total were less but had a wealth of information. The class was more beneficial in meeting people to have writer's groups with. I just bought the Writer's Journey By Chris Vogler and Story by Robert McKee. I also have Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge. Those are my next three to tackle. Again, I think anything can be helpful as long as it is helping you finish the screenplay and master your craft.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

There's nothing better than doing a little acting to help with that. I am especially fond of improv. (I realize that many really fine writers wouldn't set foot on a stage). I'm not saying it's easy, but something a writer can do is look at the moment from the point of view of one character, then completely change hats and look at it entirely from the point of view of the other. Acting books can really help. There is no one secret. Another question to ask oneself is, what is preventing this character from getting what they want at this particular moment. Takes a lifetime to figure out screenwriting. I'm going to give writer's block a big think and post the results somewhere; see if anyone agrees with me :) My writer's block comes from trying to create an external moment rather than an internal one. That's why I have trouble with Save the Cat.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Thank you Tiffany, very good advice and thoughts. You are so right about the books being packed with information. Selling Your Story in Sixty Seconds, brings us around the that dreadful word "pitching" methinks.

Scott Brandon Hoffman

I agree, many good ones, but save the cat just ROCKS out the beats and his site, consistently takes great movies and applies the save the cat beats to it for a practical look to how it shows up in different genres and different types of films. One of my friends who I turned onto the book a few years back, was struggling as a novelist, and after I turned her onto the book, she has numerous best selling novels AND teaches for them!

Tiffany Michelle

External moments are much harder! It's so easy to create internal conflict, but the external drives story... So we need it lol. And pitching... Oy! Trying to focus on getting some scripts under my belt before pitching. Goosebumps just typing about it lol!

Robert Sprawls

I'm on the other side. Trying to show internal conflict and do it right to make it believable, that's tough.

Kevin Dombrowski

I really liked J. Michael Straczynski's "The Complete Book of Scriptwriting." It's where I got my start. It's old, but he's one of the few writers of a book like that who is constantly getting stuff produced. That's what really matters. I think that's the key. Other than that, man, just read screenplays. I learned a lot from "Titanic: James Cameron's Illustrated Screenplay" because of the insight it gives you into the filmmaking process, and "Inception" just seeing how certain scenes are constructed on the page. Really, that's the best resource: screenplays themselves.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Robert, I'm with you on that. Maybe I'm not quite understanding you Tiffany. For me external moments generally go in the Action lines. It's kind of easy to describe a battle or an earthquake, in my thinking, but what started the battle or how three people deal with an earthquake is what's interesting to me, but also takes finding a way to get inside their heads, moment by moment. My observation is that movies are written for people, so they obviously must be about people. Events are, maybe, what shapes the people. But pitching! Woof. We are not salesmen. i think one secret to pitching is being so excited about your movie that you'll pitch it every chance you get, even to people who might, just possibly, give you money to make it. Blake Snyder recommends going to Starbucks and practicing your pitch with strangers. If their eyes glaze over, revise you pitch :) Kevin, I think you nailed it, read screenplays, they are the blueprints; compare what's on the page to what's on the screen. It's fun too.

Sue Romansik

Pilar Alessandra The Coffee Break Screenwriter. Just took her class. I literally felt like I was using the other side of my brain to examine my script. She makes you look at things in a simple, yet specific way. Or, just take her class. You won't be sorry.

Anthony Rich

There are so many great books. My recommendation is Screenplay by Syd Field.

Marty Wolff

I recommend Christopher Keane's "Romancing the A-List: How to Write the Script the Big Stars Want to Make" as a really good one. I read it before I even started writing my first screenplay and it definitely helped me with developing a structure both for the writing itself and for the story I wanted to tell.

Robert Sprawls

@Lawrence, I reread your first post, the one I kind of responded to indignantly and realized I completely missed your sarcasm. I can be slow on the uptake.

Award-Winning Screenwriter Krystol Diggs

Anything by Syd Field, McKree, Paul Chitlik.

Casper Martin

"Screenplay: Writing the Picture" by Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs is the best book I've read.

Lee Davis

There's so much to learn, they'll all help you get started. I'd read something short first (e.g., The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra or How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King), but then continue reading as you'll learn something different from each author. By the time you've read a hundred books, you'll have a pretty good grasp on the subject.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Good advice, Lee. I liked Viki King's book when i read it because it recommended counting out a hundred and twenty blank pages. Somehow that hit home for me what the job was. I also agreed with someone a while back who suggested one should be spending one's time actually doing it. Actors should practice acting by acting, writers by writing and so on. Read a little, write a little, possibly is the key.

Andrew Penner

Though I did like Screenwriting 101 by Film Critic Hulk for the most part I would avoid how to books and instead read screenplays. I try to read at least one screenplay every week, across genres and beyond my own personal preferences. By doing this I learned that rules and guidelines aren't as important as focusing on what I'm trying to achieve and constructing a story that gets me there. Also I'm noticing people talk about readers sticking to the Save the Cat beat sheet in their notes. If this has happened to you then I'm sympathetic but I've never ever experienced that and have heard from readers who are offended by that idea. Do yourself a favor and avoid Save the Cat.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

My joke that I may have posted here earlier, is that I never experienced writers block until I read Save the Cat. Writing is organic isn't it, isn't t supposed to come from the soul or somewhere, like real acting? I keep asking myself, "what did Charles Dickens do without Save the Cat?" A problem that concerns me is that thepeople doing the coverage look for Save the Cat beats, at least I've run into that.

Christopher Soucy

I am a huge fan of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I found it to be a wonderful tool for storytelling and story comprehension.

Lisa Clemens

just remember this advice from Brian Koppelman:

Sten Ryason

"Story", by Robert McKee is one my favorites. It's not about sticking to a hard structure (though he tends to favor the three-act model), but it does describe practically every major story theme, and gives great examples of how they've been both combined and subverted over the years. His main point is the idea that everything in the film has to serve the theme, up to and including the smallest details. The one I would recommend everyone avoid like the plague is "Save The Cat" by Blake Snyder, an insipid tome that works out a formula for screenplay structure, and it's why most Hollywood films all seem to have the same plot these days.

Michael Kobs

Get Syd Field as a kickstarter on 3 act structure. It's basic. The Sequence Approach by Paul Gulio is a different but very useful perspective on the same principles. Vogler's The Writer's Journey is a pretty good idea to read next but it lacks the INNER journey while the OUTER journey focusses on the Myth form as Truby would call it. Try to get the audio class of Vogler and Hauge about the 2 Journeys and proceed to John Truby's 22 building blocks mostly to understand the "moral argument". McKee's theme is pretty much the same but it is not that easy to understand or to use in the process of writing. "Save the cat" is the last book you should read. It's because now you will see that all of them talk about the very same principles but use very different words.

Ivan Alexei Dominguez

Syd Field

Michael Kobs

Zachariah, on Twitter you wrote: "...yet nowhere in the 'Poetics' does Aristotle assign beginnings, middles, and ends as divisions of dramatic structure." Well, he wrote about "tragedy" because the part about comedy got lost in "the name of the rose". Aristotle wrote: "... we must next discuss the proper arrangement of the incidents since this is the first and most important thing in tragedy. We have laid it down that tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude, since a thing may be a whole and yet have no magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end. A beginning is that which is not a necessary consequent of anything else but after which something else exists or happens as a natural result. An end on the contrary is that which is inevitably or, as a rule, the natural result of something else but from which nothing else follows; a middle follows something else and something follows from it. Well constructed plots must not therefore begin and end at random, but must embody the formulae we have stated. Thesis: for some reason dramatic structure should have a beginning a middle and an end Antithesis (the negation): dramatic structure are just some black dots painted on a white dog Synthesis (the negation of the negation): Hey, 9 out of 10 white tragedy-dogs have similar black dots. Is there any useful meaning? Finally we get a 3-part-structure by using dialectic and it sounds pretty close to some kind of "moral argument" (Truby) or the thesis-antithesis-synthesis of Blake Snyder or even the inner journey of Vogler. No?

Michael Kobs

Drama is conflict. Plot is character. Dialectic is conflict just like protagonist (thesis) and antagonist (antithesis). In the end you have to find some kind of solution and come to a naturally existing end. You can write an "open ending" and let the audience do the job. A story based on dialictic has to tell a thesis and some kind of antithesis not necessarily in that order. A crime fiction often start with a murder - probably an antithesis to a healthy society or law and order as a thesis and a cop or detective as a personification. If the murder was right by any standart of a higher moral then the cop (thesis) will lose is fight and change into a synthesis of a higher moral and better world of a necessary murder. If not then probably the personitied thesis will win and the character of the cop doesn't change. The killer is dead and the world changes to be a little bit better than before. No matter what you do as a writer, you always have to tell both sides of the coin to get any conflict. Once the personified thesis develops any plan to fight for his idea you get your "naturally existing" Plot point 1 even if you decide to show that moment in the last minute of the film. Possibly the audience is unsatisfied because no one knows what the conflict is about until the very end of the film. Beginning middle and end is not the same like continuity of time. Even in Memento the protagonist got a problem first, develops a plan, starts to fight towards his goal... while the time is running backwards. And even Memento has an end of that fight near the end of that film. Hence, you are absolutely right. "Beginning" doesn't mean the earliest moment in time. Beginning is the world that bears a conflict. And the funny statement of Goddard is just a funny statement - in the end without any meaning.

Kevin Fukunaga

I'm surprised no one mentioned "Adventures in the Screen Trade" by William Goldman. Great stuff.

Michael Kobs

Yes, it would be pretty interesting to discuss this topic in depth but probably in a new discussion. My point is, once you start to tell a lemming you have to give the hint "animal". It does'nt make any sense to give that hint after 2 hours of speaking. Next time you tell a lobster. The problem stays the same. That's structure. ...not dogma.

Phillip 'Le Docteur de Script' Hardy

The Hollywood Standard by Chris Riley taught me the fundamentals.

Chanel Ashley

Some excellent books have been suggested, but unless I missed it, I STRONGLY suggest The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier - current version I think is the "6th edition" - you cannot go wrong with this book.

Charlie Dalrymple

Story by McKee, Essentials Of Screenwriting by Walter, Writing Movies For Fun And Profit by Garant and Lennon, Making A Good Script Great by Seger, and if you're feeling adventurous Maverick Screenwriting by Golding.

Scott Phillips

Story by McKee? Ehh... Writing for fun and profit by Garant and Lennon is a great book if your goal is to produce the kind of material Hollywood(not indie) likes to work with. If you desire to actually get words on paper and complete a rough draft, then there's one guide you can't do without. The Screenwriting Guru himself Syd Field and his walkthrough The Screenwriters Workbook is an excellent all you need guide to formatting and writing your screenplay.

Flint Rascal

"How to Write a Film in 21 Days" By Vicki King and "The Complete Screenwriters Manual" Stephen E. Bowles... Oh and Final Draft!! All you need!!

Gareth Mollison

Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias is great to read and for reference.

Charlie Dalrymple

Keep in mind that all these suggested materials are variations on relative themes. The way one book may present an approach to building plot, theme, characters, etc. may not resonate. But another book with an altered approach on the same topics may strike the right chords. It's a matter of research on your part, and finding the approach that makes the most sense to you. BTW - The Writer's Journey by Chris Vogler is a good one to check out.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

Writing A Great Movie by Jeff Kitchen. Heard him speak at a conference and he was fantastic!

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In