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January 11, 2022

Top Screenwriting Books

Before you put pen to paper for the first time, it can be good to get some advice on screenwriting. Whether you are a novice who is preparing to write their first page or a professional looking to sharpen your skills, these top screenwriting books are for you!

Top screenwriting books

Screenwriting books can help you structure your story, give you some technical advice about the craft of writing and help you craft screenplays that are more likely to be commercially successful. Keep reading for our complete guide to the best screenwriting books available.

Save The Cat

The late screenwriter Blake Synder who started his career writing for Disney TV, penned this top screenwriting book, Save the Cat, to give writers a blow-by-blow account of writing a screenplay that sells. This book has been Hollywood's standard book on screenwriting for some time.

It contains very specific advice about where certain plot points should come in your script and what makes a great logline and slugline. There is also some advice about why you should indeed always save the cat in your story.

If you're struggling to grasp your structure but already have an excellent idea for a story, this could be a great place to start.

One of the Save the Cat's best features is the board map template it gives you. It includes 40 scenes to best showcase emotional conflict. You could incorporate these into Arc Studio Pro as you progress with the planning of your script.

Remember, though, that one of Blake Synder's Save the Cat's criticisms is that it teaches you how to write formulaic screenplays. This gives you the most excellent chance of success at selling a script to Hollywood. When the book was first published in 2005, this was the primary market for films.

However, the market has diversified since then with the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. As a result, there is a growing hunger for niche films that cater to specific audiences. For example, if you want to write something original or plan to make an independent film, some advice might not apply to you.

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

This book is an all-around gold mine for beginner screenwriters. It includes a complete guide on the writer's journey and everything a novice writer would need to know to write a good script. Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have helped him earn an internal reputation. His celebrity alumni include Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, and Julia Roberts. Writers, producers, and development executives have attended his lectures and events.

Robert McKee expertly explains the "magic" of story construction, the relationship between structure and character, and the craft of writing for the screen.

Writing Screenplays That Sell

This book is more about the business of the screenwriting industry and how you can write a killer script to advance your career. It's relevant to those serious about writing a script and want that blockbuster deal. Remember, people write for different reasons.  

Not everyone wants or needs to write to sell their ideas to Hollywood, but if you're going to attract an agent or a producer, this book can help you add that extra shine to your script.

Hague has a six-step plan that takes you from devising the idea to selling your screenplay successfully. It's well worth a read, whatever stage you're at. It starts by breaking down what the role of a screenwriter actually is on a film or TV production and then helps you develop your story and characters before you sit down to write your masterpiece.

It also gives you a great insight into the differences between the three and five-act structures and which one you might wish to use for your screenplay.

On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

This classic memoir by the master of the horror genre is not about screenwriting per-se; instead, King is one of the bestselling novelists globally and not a screenwriter.

However, it's well worth reading as much of the advice can be applied to all your writing— part-memoir of his life as he wrote his novels and part advice book. King gives you some general mechanics about writing, including keynotes on syntax, grammar, spelling, and sentence construction. He also lists the events in his life that shaped his work, including his marriage and his early attempts to get published.

King wrote the bulk of his work after he was hit by a van on a highway in Maine, causing him life-changing injuries that took doctors six operations to fix. The last section, 'On Living,' describes this in detail, lamenting how close King came to death and how it affected his writing process.

How To Write A Screenplay That Doesn't Suck

Nobody wants to get to the end of their script and feel like they've completed a mediocre or insufficient piece of work. This book takes the fear out of the process in a humorous manner.

This is one of the perfect screenwriting books for beginners. Rogan teaches you to turn your life experiences into great real-life characters, scenes, and dialogue that fly off the page. Rogan's book is also great for getting you motivated and starting the writing process.

When you're staring at a blank screen, wondering what to type, it can be hard to know what to do to fix this. If you're one of those writers who struggle to finish what you write, this is the book to keep by your laptop and get back into it when you're despairing about various plot lines or how you're ever going to finish up.

Photo of an open book.
Reading books on screenwriting can be helpful in learning about the craft.

Other screenwriting books

The books listed above are not the only books that could be helpful for your screenwriting or writing process in general. Here are a few more top picks.

The Idea: The Seven Elements of A Viable Story for the Screen, Stage or Fiction

Written by multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-winning writer/producer Erik Bork, it takes a slightly different approach to screenwrite than others. Instead of focusing on structure, he focuses on the components of a well-crafted idea.

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

For many, many years, this book was considered the screenwriter's "bible" of the film industry! You need to have this classic under your belt if you consider yourself a serious and professional screenwriter.

150 Screenwriting Challenges

If you are looking to improve your craft, this book is for you. Written by the award-winning screenwriter of Arrival, Lights Out, and Bird Box, Eric Heisserer shares advice and challenges to improve your writing.

The Nutshell Technique

This book is a must-have is you are learning the ins and outs of story structure. Her book identifies eight dynamic and interconnected elements required to tell a story successfully. Plus, the book also includes some excellent diagrams and lots and lots of examples to help illustrate her points.

Screenwriters On Screenwriting: The Best in the Business Discuss Their Craft

This book offers screenwriters a comprehensive chance to learn tips and tricks from many of the industry's leading writers. Screenwriters include Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, ), Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles), Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands), Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King), and Robert Towne (Chinatown Shampoo).

Other notable mentions:

Screenwriting books can get you back on track

There's very little help or advice that can't be found in the right books. So if you're struggling for inspiration, or looking for more information when writing your feature or short film scripts, then purchasing some screenwriting books might be your answers.

When you're approaching a massive project like a script for a TV series for the film, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed; without a clear structure and process in place, you can feel despair and give up.

Screenwriting books can be comforting friends that help you get back on track and and bolster your storytelling skills.

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Top Screenwriting Books
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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David Wain

For decades I've been searching for a seamless screenwriting app and and everything has come up way short – until Arc Studio. Writing and collaborating is easier than ever and it gets better every week. Well done!

David Wain
Writer/Director "Role Models"