I’ve been asked by a few people to give some recommendations about my favorite books on screenwriting. I’ve read quite a few, and these are the three books that have helped me the most in terms of my own writing.
If you only buy one screenwriting book, it should be this one. It’s clear, it’s to-the-point, and it doesn’t pussyfoot around. (Intended.) He lays out very specific instructions on how and when certain beats, moments, and images must appear in the screenplay. If you follow his steps, and have a bit of talent at writing, you’ll have a good foundation for structure, and you’ll be able to focus on your characters and story.
How To Build A Great Screenplay by David Howard
This book gets into the nuts and bolts of why screenplays must be structured a certain way. If Save the Cat is a walkthrough for screenwriting, this is more of an analysis of the process of structuring a screenplay. It is more exhaustive and detailed than Save the Cat, and focuses less on the sheer marketability of a screenplay and more on the needs of the story being met. This is easily my favorite screenwriting book.
Stealing Fire From The Gods, by James Bonnet
This book is less specifically about screenwriting, and more about building a story. This takes the idea of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey and adds to it the Antihero’s Journey, and the combination of these can encompass any character’s arc, heroic or otherwise. Combining mythology, philosophy, and concepts of story that have existed for millennia, this book posits that we have been telling the same stories over and over for thousands of years not because we lack creativity, but because they are the only stories that speak to our souls. Simply put, they are the only stories worth telling.
There are a ton of books out there that I didn’t mention here that are excellent, and it’s possible that these books don’t work for your particular writing style or approach. I’d love to hear your experiences. If you have a note you think would help people, leave a comment below.
My copy of Save the Cat has been through the ringer…hands down my go-to when I start any screenplay! Even if I only create a loose outline it tends to follow his beat sheet.