Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 204

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 244

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 229

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 236

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 175

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 231

Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/monica28/public_html/ on line 238
The Screenwriting Reading List: The Must-Have Books That Will Help You Write Better |

The Screenwriting Reading List: The Must-Have Books That Will Help You Write Better

Here is my basic reading list for screenwriters. I have included a brief paragraph in each instance as to what specifically I got from each of these books and how they can help you. Of course, each of us learns differently, but I would consider all of these books must-haves for your personal library.

The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier
Why I’m recommending this book:
Formatting, formatting, formatting. This is the bible for any technical issue and how to write it. There is a lot of other really great stuff in this book, but every screenwriter should have this book in their personal library.

Screenplay and The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver by Syd Field
Why I’m recommending these books:
Screenplay outlines the very basics of writing the screenplay. This is where I began my screenwriting journey, in private workshop with Syd, and so Screenplay will always represent to me the basic foundations of the screenplay. Here, you will learn the very fundamental basics of what goes into a screenplay: the three act structure, what you need in your characters, the character arc, etc. The Problem Solver goes into the practical application of how and how not to best accomplish the basics that are described in Screenplay.

The most important tool Syd helped me with in terms of screenwriting was the process of breaking story and outlining. He has a very detailed and thorough system for carding out story, and if you learn this process, it will no doubt help you with your outlining. He also works from a very interesting character space of the traumatic childhood incident that shapes the world view of the character and this then becomes the core trauma that the adult needs to heal and overcome within the character arc.

Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hauge
Why I’m recommending this book:
I love Michael Hauge. I attended a weekend seminar years ago with Michael Hauge that taught me one of the most, if not the most, important lesson I’ve learned as a screenwriter. The understanding of this has completely transformed and opened up the way in which I look at screenwriting: Screenplay is a race and your protagonist is running for the finish line. It’s a two hour marathon. It’s our job as the writer to establish what and where the finish line is with the inciting incident and then by the end of the story we need to get that protagonist over his finish line, whatever that may mean to that individual. If we never tell the audience where we’re running, they never get on the race. I have subsequently come to understand that the finish line goes hand-in-hand with genre conventions (audience expectations), and I am a little obsessive about writing to genre, because it helps make the finish line abundantly clear. Michael also has a very sophisticated system for plotting out the A story beats with the emotional beats. It’s a great way to learn how to break the character arc along with the main A story beats.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Why I’m recommending this book:
I was really pleased when I got Blake’s book because this book covers all of the salient points in a way that is very close to how I myself approach all aspects of screenwriting. It takes an updated approach to screenwriting that is fresh and modern. He talks about beating out your project using note cards, uses a 15 point approach, and it’s quite interesting. This is basically exactly how I’ve been writing for years, but he puts it into very plain language and explains how to use the card system so it’s accessible to all. Look, as with most things in life, he hasn’t invested anything new here, however, I do think he aggregates many of the most valuable points in approaching writing a screenplay.

Making a Good Script Great and Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Segar
Why I’m recommending these books:
Linda Segar has a wonderful and comprehensive method for taking your writing to a deeper level. Once you’ve got a good grip on the basics, Linda’s books will help you deepen and broaden your understanding of the writing process.

500 Ways To Beat the Hollywood Reader by Jennifer Lerch
Why I’m recommending this book:
Jennifer covers the very basics of screenplay from a professional working perspective as an agency reader. She intelligently and comprehensively covers across every category what basic good writing must include. The de-facto dos and don’ts list. As the 500 Ways are basically a list, if you don’t already have that basic education from another source, you will have to read scripts and find other teachers to teach you exactly how to implement her instructions. However, this is a must have in your personal library.

Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernitt
Why I’m recommending this book:
Billy Mernit teaches the genre conventions of writing a romantic comedy. The main convention of this genre is that the A story is not the love story. The A story is the external objective of the protagonist. The B story is the love story, the emotional journey of the character. This was the first seminar wherein I became highly attuned to the fact that every genre has its own conventions. It is our job to study and learn those conventions and then hit all of them within our writing.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
Why I’m recommending this book:
Vogler bases his approach to story on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” and other writings, as well as Carl Jung’s research in psychology. He goes into depth explaining the mythic structure of the hero’s journey and the various character archetypes. This is mandatory reading as part of your basic screenwriting education.

Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla
Why I’m recommending this book:
This is sort of “Hero With a Thousand Faces” 2.0 for screenwriting. I love this book because it really investigates storytelling from the perspective within the genre. He includes a nice summary of the basic character archetypes in the beginning of the book, a nice crib sheet for your library. He breaks out mythic structure within each basic genre and sub-genre category: action adventure, western, horror, thriller, war, drama, romance, romantic comedy, comedy, science fiction and fantasy. Specific film examples are given and we’re provided with a nice breakdown of that movie, including fancy charts wherein he’s carded out major plot points from the films and explains their mythic significance.

Stealing Fire From the Gods by James Bonnet
Why I’m recommending this book:
This book gives a very nice comprehensive base for explaining the unconscious vs. the conscious in storytelling. I also consider this book to be work from the “Hero With a Thousand Faces” paradigm, as he goes into the archetypes and then talks at length about the hero’s journey. However, he has a unique way of approaching story, and perhaps it will resonate with you.

Additional Books on Screenwriting

Story by Robert McKee
I know many people love this book and get a ton out of the McKee seminar. I’m not one of them. First off, Story bothers me just a weensy bit because he takes commonly understood Hollywood terminology and brands them with his own verbiage, which can be confusing and also a little misleading for a new writer. But, more importantly, McKee is old guard. While at AFI, we had one older male teacher who showed us his definition of “the great” clips from movies, and then we’d read the scene and investigate how that scene was written on the page. Unfortunately, about one in every three of his “great” scenes involved sexual violence toward women – physical and sexual abuse, rape, etc. Of course, for us young women, we wondered why a scene was “great” just because a woman got raped, or beaten, or sodomized – and weren’t there many other great scenes that could have been shown? Weren’t there any “great” scenes written by women that didn’t involve a woman getting raped? This class became nicknamed “the rape class.” I think McKee is a member of this old guard who loves teaching older men material. In the Story seminar I attended years ago, McKee just ranted like a horrible curmudgeon, recently escaped from the looney bin, in almost every case citing as “shit” that was offensive to any normal human being’s sensibilities movies I really enjoyed. In particular, I recall an extremely long, embittered and irrational attack against La reine Margot. I actually saw that film in the theatre in Paris and enjoyed it; not the worst film on the planet by any stretch of the imagination. He followed that with an over-the-top tirade about how non-linear filmmaking is a complete waste of time (I’d love to see him have that conversation with Chris Nolan). When he went after Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin and Moulin Rouge, my favorite film and creative team, as “trash,” that was when I had to draw the line. I knew then the elevator did not go to the top floor. He kept screaming every twenty minutes for some poor, shocked assistant girl from the hall to bring him his pills (Percocet, as I recall) in a tiny yogurt tasting cup. Then he would try to play off the psychotic screaming with a joke about how if everyone had a young, pretty girl to bring them their pain meds every few minutes, the world would be a better place. I would argue, no, sir, it would not. I walked out of that piece of “shit” old guard “rape class” after a couple of hours. Traumatized. Still.

, , ,

2 Responses to The Screenwriting Reading List: The Must-Have Books That Will Help You Write Better

  1. Joanna July 8, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    Re: Snyder’s Save the Cat book. In the past, I was disappointed with the lack of examples in the book. However, to each his own…

  2. Monica July 10, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    You never know when something will click for you. Nobody here is reinventing the wheel, but if someone can explain something in a way where you see it from a new perspective, then that’s great. The more, the better.