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25 Best Screenwriting Books to Learn the Craft

The 25 best screenwriting books to learn the craft and become a professional writer for film/tv

Understanding how to write a great screenplay takes time and practice. However, you don’t have to go it entirely alone because tools exist designed to help you develop your writing skills.

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Known as ‘screenwriting manuals’, these are guides written by a mixture of development executives, seasoned writers, character psychologists and Hollywood writer/directors to serve as a guide for every screenwriter to hone their skills.

About the best screenwriting books

Every manual has its own style and focus. Some give you rigid templates to outline your story, while others suggest a more organic approach to creation. Some prefer to figure out what you want to say before writing, whereas others suggest it’ll come to you in later drafts.

The critical thing to remember is that none of these guides are definitive. You’ll likely prefer some to others and find chunks of golden advice in all of them. So use what works for you and discard the rest, knowing that it’s all helping you find your distinctive tone of voice.

Because how everyone prefers to write is subjective, the books listed below are in no particular order.

So here are my top 25 best screenwriting books to help you learn the craft and further your screenwriting career:

1. Save the Cat (2005) by Blake Snyder

Ubiquitous to screenwriters around the globe, most read Save the Cat as their introduction to the screenwriting craft. The book is noted for its beat sheet that helps writers develop plots down to the page where each action should occur. Use Save the Cat to hone your story structure.

Save the Cat
Save the Cat (2005) by Blake Snyder. Image courtesy of Michael Wiese Productions.

 

 

2. Screenplay, the Foundations of Screenwriting (1979) by Syd Field

For writers who have nailed their concept but have no idea how to execute it, Screenplay is the answer. Field shows how some of the biggest films in history work and teaches us their lessons. Use Screenplay to take your script from concept to completion.

Screenplay by Syd Field
Screenplay, the Foundations of Screenwriting (1979) by Syd Field. Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

3. Story (1998) by Robert McKee

Regarded by many in the industry as the best screenwriting book, Story is known for its no-nonsense approach to development. McKee is perhaps at his strongest when writing about building conflict beat by beat with his breakdown of the Casablanca script. Use Story to improve your ability to structure scenes.

Story by Robert Mckee
Story (1998) by Robert McKee. Image courtesy of ReganBooks.

4. The Writer’s Journey (1992) by Christopher Vogler

Allegedly the screenwriting manual used by several Pixar writers, The Writer’s Journey is like a character-driven version of Save the Cat. Vogler begins with character archetypes and teaches us about their role in any story. Use it to create characters that drive your protagonist to accomplish their emotional arc.

The Writer's Journey
The Writer’s Journey (1992) by Christopher Vogler. Image courtesy of Michael Wiese Productions.

5. Into the Woods (2014) by John Yorke

The latest book to be accepted into the screenwriting canon. Into the Woods teaches that stories are like mirrors where every decision, emotion and action up to the mid-point is reflected in the second half during the drive to the climax. Use Into the Woods to conquer act two.

Into the Woods (2014) by John Yorke. Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.
Into the Woods (2014) by John Yorke. Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

6. Maverick Screenwriting (2012) by Josh Golding

Rather than sticking to set formulas, Maverick Screenwriting teaches you how to use advanced writing techniques to play with time, reality and logic. Instead, Golding emphasises looking deep into your story’s theme to discover an original way to tell it. Use Maverick Screenwriting to hone your unique style.

Maverick Screenwriting
Maverick Screenwriting (2012) by Josh Golding. Image courtesy of Methuen Drama.

7. The Science of Writing Characters (2020) by Kira Anne Pelican

In The Science of Writing Characters, Pelican utilises the big five personality types theory to help writers understand what motivates their characters and where their disposition to act in certain circumstances comes from. Use this book to develop coherent characters that act based on strong personal histories.

The Science of Writing Characters
The Science of Writing Characters (2020) by Kira Anne Pelican. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Academic.

8. Inside Fictional Minds (2021) by Dr. Stephanie Carty

Inside Fictional Minds teaches writers to consider how characters’ histories affect their thinking habits. Using writing prompts akin to a psychodynamic therapy session, writers confront the conflicts their characters have to unpick to complete their arcs. Use this book to understand the journey your protagonist needs to undertake to change.

Inside Fictional Minds
Inside Fictional Minds (2021) by Dr. Stephanie Carty. Image courtesy of Ad Hoc Fiction.

9. Your Screenplay Sucks! (2008) by William A. Akers

You’ve written your first draft, great! Now what? In Your Screenplay Sucks!, Akers offers writers a checklist of 100 questions to answer before considering their script ‘finished’ using examples from other writers on how they solved their script problems. Use Your Screenplay Sucks! To guide your rewriting process.

Your Screenplay Sucks 2008 by William a Akers
Your Screenplay Sucks! (2008) by William A. Akers. Image courtesy of Michael Wiese Productions.

10. The Elements of Style (1918) by William Strunk Jr.

An all-rounder writing book for any writer, The Elements of Style is considered compulsory reading to hone the craft. Primarily a grammar book, which will help every screenwriter, the major takeaway is a lesson on being concise so that every word remains effective. Use for your final revision.

The Elements of Style 1918 by William Strunk Jr
The Elements of Style (1918) by William Strunk Jr. Image courtesy of Auroch Press.

11. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (1997) by Larry Trask

Screenwriters are notoriously bad at spelling and grammar compared to other writing disciplines, so The Penguin Guide to Punctuation is your pocket-sized friend that clearly and concisely explains all the rules you need to know. Use this book for a quick reminder on what punctuation to use when.

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation
The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (1997) by Larry Trask. Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

12. On Writing (2000) by Stephen King

Part biography, part collection of tips for aspiring writers, On Writing is less a writing manual and more a masterclass on perseverance. Written by horror author Stephen King, who’s seen every one of his books become a bestseller, use On Writing as a reminder to find joy in the process.

On Writing 2000 by Stephen King
On Writing (2000) by Stephen King. Image courtesy of Hodder And Stoughton.

13. Reading Screenplays (2011) by Lucy Scher

The best screenwriting book to learn what to write to get your story past the industry gatekeepers: the script readers. In Reading Screenplays, Lucy Scher shows you how to write a script report and analyse the craft of story. Use this to understand how your scripts are analysed.

Reading Screenplays 2011 by Lucy Scher
Reading Screenplays (2011) by Lucy Scher. Image courtesy of Creative Essentials.

14. Screenwriting: the Sequence Approach (2020) by Joseph Paul Galino

Each film usually comprises 5-7 sequences, so screenplay writing is sequence writing. In Screenwriting: the Sequence Approach, Galino helps to simplify the outlining process by focussing on a handful of big events that complete your character arc. Use this book for crafting a story with powerful, emotionally-charged turning points.

The Sequence Approach 2020 by Joseph Paul Galino
The Sequence Approach (2020) by Joseph Paul Galino. Image courtesy of Continuum.

15. Short Films: Writing the Screenplay (2012) by Patrick Nash

Short film scripts are no different in format, craft or structure to features, but they do require the right concept. Short Films demystifies what to look for in a story that’s naturally suited to be told quickly. Use the book to craft short screenplays that connect with audiences.

Short Films Writing the Screenplay 2012 by Patrick Nash
Short Films: Writing the Screenplay (2012) by Patrick Nash. Image courtesy of Creative Essentials.

16. The Seven Basic Plots (2004) by Christopher Booker

The Seven Basic Plots shows how telling stories evolved in humans to aid survival through seven basic archetypal plots. Booker teaches how to tap into these universal structures to find the best way to tell your story. Use this book to discover what your story is truly about.

The Seven Basic Plots 2004 by Christopher Booker
The Seven Basic Plots (2004) by Christopher Booker. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury.

17. The Science of Storytelling (2019) by Will Storr

In The Science of Storytelling, Storr shows how we can use psychological research, myths and plot archetypes to craft emotional scenes that resonate with the audience in the way the writer intends. Use this book to learn how to mix storytelling logic with emotional resonance to craft your own voice.

The Science of Storytelling 2019 by Will Storr
The Science of Storytelling (2019) by Will Storr. Image courtesy of Dreamscape Media.

18. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell

A book that unpacks fairy tales, Vedas, legends and ancient stories to show us that there are underlying act structures hidden across all of them. Use The Hero with a Thousand Faces to learn the patterns across all storytelling mediums to serve as the foundation for your own work.

The Hero with A Thousand Faces 1949 by Joseph Campbell
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell. Image courtesy of New World Library.

19. Take Off Your Pants (2015) by Libbie Hawker

Targeting those who prefer to just write, Take Off Your Pants teaches you the value of a well considered outline. Hawker showcases her universal outline technique that works across genres to ensure your premise doesn’t come undone halfway through writing. Use this book for creating bulletproof outlines.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker
Take Off Your Pants (2015) by Libbie Hawker. Image courtesy of Running Rabbit Press.

20. Writing Dialogue for Scripts (1998) by Rib Davis

In Writing Dialogue for Scripts, Davis demonstrates how to create three-dimensional characters just by the way they talk. He gets you to consider character history, personality and quirks to create characters with unique ways of speaking. Use this book to craft characters with a distinctive vocabulary, pace and voice.

Writing Dialogue for Scripts 1998 by Rib Davis
Writing Dialogue for Scripts (1998) by Rib Davis. Image courtesy of Methuen Drama.

21. 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them (1993) by Robert Tobias

In the 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, author Tobias teaches you how to use genre and archetypal plots to inform the structure of memorable stories. Use this when starting a new project but don’t know what you’re trying to say or which mechanics to use.

20 Master Plots and How to Build Them 1993 Robert Tobias
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them (1993) Robert Tobias. Image courtesy of Writer’s Digest Books.

22. The Idea: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story (2018) by Erik Bork

One of the rare books that considers how to tell whether your premise is best told as a book, play or screenplay, The Idea teaches you to spot the flaws in your story’s concept. Use this book when starting a new story to test whether it’ll work as a screenplay.

The Idea the Seven Elements of A Viable Story 2018 by Erik Bork
The Idea: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story (2018) by Erik Bork. Image courtesy of Overfall Press.

23. Creating Character Arcs (2016) by K. M. Weiland

Creating Character Arcs aims to teach you how to blend plot, character and story structure into a memorable character journey that leaves audiences satisfied. Weiland has a particular focus on creating arcs over series and trilogies, so use this book if you’re writing for TV or creating a cinematic universe.

Creating Character Arcs 2016 K M Weiland
Creating Character Arcs (2016) K. M. Weiland. Image courtesy of PenForASword Publishing.

24. The Anatomy of Story (2007) by John Truby

In The Anatomy of Story, Truby takes an organic approach to storytelling. Rather than suggest using specific structures, he suggests writers listen to their characters, plot and location to build a narrative that’s comfortable with itself. Use this book to try a different method of story building.

The Anatomy of Story 2007 John Truby
The Anatomy of Story (2007) by John Truby. Image courtesy of Faber & Faber.

25. Writing Your Story’s Theme (2020) by K. M. Weiland

Writing Your Story’s Theme teaches writers how to use theme from the moment they conceive a premise. Weiland showcases how to utilise theme to tie all plot points, characters and conflicts together in a heartfelt story. Use this book to find your personal philosophy and what you want to say.

Writing Your Storys Theme 2020 by K M Weiland
Writing Your Story’s Theme (2020) by K. M. Weiland. Image courtesy of PenForASword Publishing.

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