From time to time I’m asked what screenwriting books I like. Below are some books I recommend as a starting place to build your screenwriting library.
Making A Good Script Great by Linda Seger
This is the book I would recommend to someone who knows nothing about screenwriting. It’s broad but a little shallow – in other words, it covers most of the crucial parts of the screenwriting craft, but somewhat superficially. It provides a good overview and a good base to build from. It is ostensibly a book about rewriting, but really what it covers is what you have to think about in the outlining and first draft stages as well. Also, Seger’s philosophies and approach to screenwriting pretty closely mirror mine.
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
This book describes how to apply the mono-myth as described by Joseph Campbell to screenwriting. It’s a different approach to screenwriting than the more typical three-act structure, though the two work together well. Not every story fits the mono-myth, however if you think of it metaphorically, most will. What I like about it is that it approaches plot from the standpoint of the character’s journey, making the story very character driven.
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Recently unfairly maligned, Save the Cat is as comprehensive as Seger’s book, though more uneven in my opinion. I disagree with some of Snyder’s structural breakdown and a lot of his advice works best if you’re writing the kind of light comedies and family drama that he specialized in. However he also gives a lot of tricks of the trade that I’ve heard pro screenwriters talk about but haven’t seen in a book before. Perhaps that's because this is one of the surprisingly few screenwriting books written by someone who’s actually had screenplays produced.
Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
These guys tell it like it really is in Hollywood. If you want to work within the studio system, you should know what you’re getting into. The book is both cynical and hilarious, and it offers some good tips for dealing with difficult situations you'll encounter in the business. It’s less useful when it purports to give advice on actually writing, but for dealing with the industry and maintaining your psychological health, it’s invaluable. And again, here is a book by actual produced screenwriters.
The Tools of Screenwriting by David Howard and Edward Mabley
David Howard was one of my professors at USC. This book contains lots of useful techniques that are frequently overlooked in other books. The only problem is that the book is not organized in such a way that a beginner could easily build a writing process from it. However if you start with Seger’s book, this one will offer more advanced treatment of many crucial concepts.
And because I can't not mention it...
The Hollywood Pitching Bible by Douglas Eboch and Ken Aguado
Okay, I have to put a big asterisk by this one because I co-wrote it. But I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think the information was valuable. Pitching is a crucial part of being a professional screenwriter. Our book tells you how to do it effectively.
Any favorite screenwriting books I missed? Let me know in the comments!