There are thousands of screenwriting books for beginners, rather fewer for more advanced writers. All aim to help writers, and the best screenwriting books actually do that. But as you read more, the more you own the subject itself.

Try this – my very personal list of the best.

Adaptation
Alternative Writing
Basic Rules
First Draft Writing
Genre
Other Kinds of Writing
Psychology for Writers
Screenplays
Selling
Writing for TV

If you want to save time and go straight to my Top 6 All-time Favourites, click here

Adaptation

The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film – Linda Seger (Henry Holt & Co). One of the few books that concentrate specifically on adaptations. Excellent.

Screening the Novel – Gabriel Miller (Ungar). Compares 8 US films with their source novels – interesting and thought-provoking critical study.

Graham Greene: The Films of his Fiction – Gene Phillips (Teachers College Press). Insights into the changes that take place when adapting.

Alternative Writing

Alternative Scriptwriting – Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush (Focal Press). Probing and advanced thoughts on the rules and how (and why) to break them.

The Art of Fiction (Notes on Craft for Young Writers) – John Gardner (Vintage Books). Although this is aimed at short story and novel writing, this book contains considerable insights into the craft and art of creating stories and characters, style, genre and other issues that are very relevant to screenwriters. Intermediate to advanced.

Basic Rules

The 21st Century Screenplay – Linda Aronson (Allen & Unwin). This excellent and practical book covers both the basics for beginners and the non-basics for more advanced writers, starting with the very starting point and talking you through the traditional forms and then on to non-linear. Review

How To Write a Movie in 21 Days – Viki King (Harper and Row) Good overview – strong on first-draft writing. Beginners (but I still refer to it regularly).

Making a Good Script Great – Linda Seger (Samuel French) One of the classic texts on editing and redrafting.

Plot (Element of Fiction Writing) – Ansen Dibell  (Writers’ Digest Books) Deals primarily with short stories and novels, but is eminently applicable to screenwriting. Good on subplot, balance and exposition.

Story – Robert McKee (Methuen). The guru’s guru. McKee’s book is better than some of his critics would have it, and very strong on key elements of storytelling and scene construction.

Screenwriting for Narrative Film and Television – William Miller (Hastings House) Looks at the basic rules and touches on some of the alternative approaches.

The Understructure of Writing for Film and Television – Ben Brady andLanceLee (University of Texas Press) Good primer on the basics of cinema storytelling.

Writing Screenplays That Sell – Michael Hauge (Elm Tree Books) Good for character analysis.

The Art and Science of Screenwriting – Philip Parker (Intellect). Some very good sections, with material on different genres, but its rather dry, scientific style might prove hard work for some writers.

First Draft Writing

Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg (Shambala) First-draft writing – how to get it on the page.

Genre

Alternative Scriptwriting: Rewriting the Hollywood Formula: Successfully Breaking the Rules – Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush (Focal Press). This probing book on the rules and how (and why) to break them is one of the very few to deal with genre in any depth at all.

The Art of Fiction (Notes on Craft for Young Writers) – John Gardner (Vintage Books). Although this is aimed at short story and novel writing, this book contains considerable insights into the craft and art of creating stories and characters, style, genre and other issues that are very relevant to screenwriters.

Hollywood Cinema – Richard Maltby (Blackwell) – chapter on genre.

Seeing is Believing – Peter Biskind (Pluto Press) – subtitled “How Hollywood Taught us to stop Worrying and love the Fifties” this is a fascinating analysis of how different genres (from gangster and western to melodrama) can be adapted to different political ends.

Other Kinds of Writing

On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King (Hodder and Stoughton). The art of clear, readable, quality writing by a master of the craft. Much of this applies as much to screenwriting at all levels as to literature, popular or otherwise.

Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury (Capra Press). This title would have sent me running fast in the opposite direction, except for the name of the author. He knows whereof he speaks. Good and stimulating.

Psychology for Writers

Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman (Bloomsbury). Masterful insights into the role of the emotions in decision-making, maturity and life in general.

Focusing – Eugene T. Glendlin (Bantam New Age). How to use your inner feelings as a guide to making key decisions.

Frogs into Princes – Richard Bandler and John Grindler (Real People Press). A good introduction to Neuro Linguistic Programming.

Games People Play – Eric Berne (Penguin Books). The definitive book on how people screw up by taking on unconscious roles to play.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections – CJ Jung (Fontana). The great-grandaddy. Cut out the middle-men and go straight to the man who started all this stuff about archetypes, heroes, etc.

Use Your Head – Tony Buzan (BBC Publications). The grandaddy of them all: how to use your brain better. Very practical.

Screenplays

Amazon’s Used & New links are a surprisingly useful source of remarkably cheap scripts of all kinds. Either search for the screenplay you want or browse the full selection.

Selling

Ask for the Moon and Get it! The secret of getting what you want by knowing how to ask – Percy Ross with Dick Samson (GP Putnam’s Sons). Another one of the thousand, in this case a more personal angle on selling yourself.

The Movie Game, The Film Business in Britain, Europe and America – Martin Dale (Cassell) A good overview of the way films are made and marketed around the world. But beware, any book will be partly out of date by the time it is printed!

The Tao of Sales, The Easy Way to Sell in Tough Times – E. Thomas Behr (Element). One of a thousand books on selling. Almost any of them will do the job, but this one has a nice non-aggressive flavour to it, as befits the title.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook – (A&C Black) – vital reference works for TV and film companies, agents, publishers, magazines together with useful advice sections.

Writing for TV

Made for Television: Euston Films Limited – by Manuel Alvarado and John Stewart. (BFI/Thames Methuen). Detailed history of one of the most successful TV drama studios in the UK, including many excellent treatments and proposals for single dramas, series and serials. Out of print but second hand copies often available here…

Writing for Television: Series, Serials and Soaps – Yvonne Grace (Kamera Books). A very solid introduction to the world of the professional TV writer from a highly experienced award-winning screenwriter and producer. Review

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