That’s a rather arrogant title, isn’t it? Well, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. There’s countless screenwriter booklists out there and a lot of them aren’t even compiled by screenwriters themselves. They are pretty dire and I’ve been cutting my own path with reading for a while now. I want to share the books that I’ve personally learned a lot from and know have worked for me. This is what I believe is the most powerful collection of screenwriting books you can read over the next 12 months.
This list is also about the bigger picture than screenwriting itself, it covers the areas of writing, artistry, and industry, for which I’ve picked my favourites within each. I’ve read a hell of a lot more.
Personally, I feel this essential reading. I see so much ignorance within screenwriting communities over the reality behind how famous films were developed, how popular screenwriters built careers, and even what advice various authors give. That’s before even getting into discussion over craft.
There is a wealth of information here you can arm yourself with. Information which will give you craft tips, creative direction, business advice, and historical knowledge.
None of these books are a one-shot solution. You have to take a little from each and be prepared to throw some advice away if it doesn’t align with your needs. A lot of people read one book and become tribalistic over it, arguing points to death because they don’t want to sit down and take in new information. That’s just beating up yourself in the long run.
Some obvious, well known books I’m not going to list. By all means, read Save The Cat if you want to know what it covers and be able to discuss it with understanding.
If you look these authors up, you’re probably going to be disappointed by the lack of IMDB credits, but that doesn’t invalidate them. Some people are just very good at analyzing things. That said, there’s stuff in each book that contradicts itself or is just plain wrong. For example, do not pay any attention to William M. Akers’ 7 Deadly Sins of Screenwriting. It’s garbage. There’s still a lot of gold within all of these though.
The intention here is to take the bits that work for you. That you take in the arguments behind certain points. You may also find a concept you can’t get your head around in one book becomes obvious to you in another.
- Writing For Emotional Impact, by Karl Iglesias
- Writing Screenplays That Sell, by Michael Hauge
- Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field
- Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make It Great, by William M. Akers
- Story, by Robert McKee
Artistry & Creativity
A topic seldom discussed but essential to the development of writers is artistry. As screenwriters, we go through a lot of emotional stuff alone and the attitude within a lot of communities discredits the artistic side of our art form. A lot of people think screenwriters should be worker bees. That’s a one-way ticket to a miserable life.
When you read these books, a lot of feelings you thought you struggled with alone will make an appearance. You will learn ways to fight your inner demons and get the most from yourself. Ultimately, you need to build yourself into a happy, fulfilled artist who loves the process of creating.
- Art & Fear, by David Bayles & Ted Orland
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- Steal Like An Artist, by Austin Kleon
- Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
- Real Artists Don’t Starve, by Thomas Nelson
- The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, Lewis Hyde
How would you feel if you found out every great film you know of was hated at some point? That what’s regarded as the best screenplay ever written was rejected by the film’s director? How the people behind some of the most highly rated films in history, had no faith in them? That some of the greatest screenwriters in history found themselves unwanted and ridiculed when they first approached Hollywood.
Legendary films have struggled to get made since filmmaking started. The stories are incredible and nothing like the tales screenwriting communities often tell. The deals that have been done, the tricks that have been pulled, and the gambles that have been made are stories you need to read.
- What You Don’t Learn In Film School, by Shane Stanley
- Rebels on the Backlot, by Sharon Waxman
- Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind
- Down and Dirty Pictures, by Peter Biskind
- Tales From Development Hell, by David Hughes
- Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories, by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman
- Quentin Tarantino: Shooting from the Hip, by Wensley Clarkson
- Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, by James Andrew Miller
A Word of Warning
If you’ve got this far, it means you’re paying attention and you need to know this; Reading these books is going to ruin your enjoyment of most screenwriting communities. You are going to see so much misinformation and backward thinking that you’ll be dazzled and a little appalled so much energy is expended on it. Sadly, online communities tend to communicate the narrative the majority want to hear. People want to believe that writers become overnight sensations, that the development process is wonderful, and hard rules apply to everything. It is a complete madness and why 99% of screenwriters are just running furious circles around themselves, throwing what cash they can spare on lottery schemes they believe will catapult them into the Oscars.
I only share stuff that I know works for me. I’m not in this to up-sell you a seminar or employ me as a consultant. I’m a writer. I love writing. I want you to love writing too and I want you do be successful at it, regardless of what success may look like to you.