The best screenwriting books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about screenwriting and why they recommend each book.

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Writing for Television

By Yvonne Grace,

Book cover of Writing for Television: Series, Serials and Soaps

There are numerous books on writing for TV but Yvonne’s book is eminently practical covering the basics and also the more complex and nuanced aspects like the relationship between writers and script editors. Given the importance of the streamers writing for TV is more important than ever.

Who am I?

Julian Friedmann is co-owner of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and was the publisher of ScriptWriter magazine. At the agency, he has represented both book and scriptwriters for over 40 years and also acts as Executive Producer for and with clients. Julian is a TEDx speaker and is the author of the Make Money Screenwriting series, co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television, and editor of two volumes on Writing Long-Running Television series. He has taught at universities and film schools all over the world. He designed the MA in Television Scriptwriting at De Montfort University, and PILOTS (for developing long-running television series) for the EU MEDIA Programme. 


I wrote...

Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

By Julian Friedmann,

Book cover of Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

What is my book about?

The first volume in the series Make Money Screenwriting, looks at creative strategies, the creative process: how to grab your audience; the physiology and emotion of being the audience; cinema or television - what format is right for you; SVODs, the streamers, and the new world order: writing treatments and step outlines that work; bibles: how TV shows are pitched; adaptation: pros and cons and more pros; writing prose, another string, another bow.

Written by an Agent with 40 years’ experience the book is a practical guide to navigating the creative aspects of developing a professional career. The focus of the series of books is on actually making money from writing.

The Science of Writing Characters

By Kira-Anne Pelican,

Book cover of The Science of Writing Characters: Using Psychology to Create Compelling Fictional Characters

A wonderful book that looks at the psychological bases for the development of sophisticated characters in screenplays. Don’t be afraid of writing complex characters: they are more effective in engaging the audience and this book will help you achieve that.

Who am I?

Julian Friedmann is co-owner of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and was the publisher of ScriptWriter magazine. At the agency, he has represented both book and scriptwriters for over 40 years and also acts as Executive Producer for and with clients. Julian is a TEDx speaker and is the author of the Make Money Screenwriting series, co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television, and editor of two volumes on Writing Long-Running Television series. He has taught at universities and film schools all over the world. He designed the MA in Television Scriptwriting at De Montfort University, and PILOTS (for developing long-running television series) for the EU MEDIA Programme. 


I wrote...

Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

By Julian Friedmann,

Book cover of Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

What is my book about?

The first volume in the series Make Money Screenwriting, looks at creative strategies, the creative process: how to grab your audience; the physiology and emotion of being the audience; cinema or television - what format is right for you; SVODs, the streamers, and the new world order: writing treatments and step outlines that work; bibles: how TV shows are pitched; adaptation: pros and cons and more pros; writing prose, another string, another bow.

Written by an Agent with 40 years’ experience the book is a practical guide to navigating the creative aspects of developing a professional career. The focus of the series of books is on actually making money from writing.

Writing Screenplays That Sell, The Complete Guide to Turning Story Concepts into Movie and Television Deals

By Michael Hauge,

Book cover of Writing Screenplays That Sell, The Complete Guide to Turning Story Concepts into Movie and Television Deals

No-nonsense book about what makes a good script. Writers find it particularly difficult avoiding flashbacks and voice-overs, and can’t always find ways of showing rather than telling. Michael demonstrates how to build the obstacles so your sympathetic character has increasing problems battling against the odds before they finally achieve their goal.

Who am I?

Julian Friedmann is co-owner of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and was the publisher of ScriptWriter magazine. At the agency, he has represented both book and scriptwriters for over 40 years and also acts as Executive Producer for and with clients. Julian is a TEDx speaker and is the author of the Make Money Screenwriting series, co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television, and editor of two volumes on Writing Long-Running Television series. He has taught at universities and film schools all over the world. He designed the MA in Television Scriptwriting at De Montfort University, and PILOTS (for developing long-running television series) for the EU MEDIA Programme. 


I wrote...

Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

By Julian Friedmann,

Book cover of Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

What is my book about?

The first volume in the series Make Money Screenwriting, looks at creative strategies, the creative process: how to grab your audience; the physiology and emotion of being the audience; cinema or television - what format is right for you; SVODs, the streamers, and the new world order: writing treatments and step outlines that work; bibles: how TV shows are pitched; adaptation: pros and cons and more pros; writing prose, another string, another bow.

Written by an Agent with 40 years’ experience the book is a practical guide to navigating the creative aspects of developing a professional career. The focus of the series of books is on actually making money from writing.

Screenwriting 101

By Film Crit Hulk,

Book cover of Screenwriting 101

Most of the books on this list aren’t strictly about story structure but instead combine unique storytelling insights with innovative structural concepts. Topping the list in that regard is Film Crit Hulk’s Screenwriting 101. Equal parts writing guide and manifesto against overused storytelling techniques like 3-Act Structure and the Hero's Journey, his emotional approach to structuring stories is perhaps the most thought-provoking I’ve encountered. Unfortunately, the book is currently out-of-print, though I have heard that Hulk (a pseudonym, obviously) intends to release a second edition in the future. Fingers crossed.

This is currently out of print, but a new edition is expected soon.


Who am I?

I’ve been a student of story structure for decades. As a novelist, this initially started as a means to learn as much as I could from those with more experience than myself, but quickly grew into a passion. I read everything on the subject I could get my hands on and eventually began analyzing the plots of novels and movies for myself, amalgamating what I had learned with my own theories and insights which coalesced into a wholly new structural paradigm. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with many talented screenwriters and novelists to help them shape their stories using Six Act Structure. 


I wrote...

Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret

By Marshall Dotson,

Book cover of Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret

What is my book about?

Most structural paradigms are vague to the point of being esoteric. Terms like “dark night of the soul” or “return with the elixir” are simultaneously too convoluted and too abstract to clearly impart their narrative functions. The Story Structure Secret: Actions and Goals eschews the traditional approach to story structure by teaching you how to use a simple, universal pattern of six character actions and goals to drive the structure of your narrative.

This sequence of actions and goals is the hidden foundation of your favorite novels and films, and by learning to align the unique actions your characters take with these universal story actions, you can easily create compelling and propulsive narratives. 

My Story Can Beat Up Your Story

By Jeffrey Alan Schechter,

Book cover of My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch

Schechter divides the traditional 3-act structure into four parts; Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3. While that’s not revolutionary in itself, he uses this four-part breakdown to structure multiple story elements like theme and motivation. My favorite element is his breakdown of the character’s story evolution into four archetypes: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, and Martyr. Seeing how these archetypes can be metaphorical such as Jason Bourne being “orphaned” from his previous life at the beginning of The Bourne Identity, or literal, such as Rose martyring herself by returning to the sinking Titanic to rescue Jack, is worth the price of admission alone.


Who am I?

I’ve been a student of story structure for decades. As a novelist, this initially started as a means to learn as much as I could from those with more experience than myself, but quickly grew into a passion. I read everything on the subject I could get my hands on and eventually began analyzing the plots of novels and movies for myself, amalgamating what I had learned with my own theories and insights which coalesced into a wholly new structural paradigm. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with many talented screenwriters and novelists to help them shape their stories using Six Act Structure. 


I wrote...

Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret

By Marshall Dotson,

Book cover of Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret

What is my book about?

Most structural paradigms are vague to the point of being esoteric. Terms like “dark night of the soul” or “return with the elixir” are simultaneously too convoluted and too abstract to clearly impart their narrative functions. The Story Structure Secret: Actions and Goals eschews the traditional approach to story structure by teaching you how to use a simple, universal pattern of six character actions and goals to drive the structure of your narrative.

This sequence of actions and goals is the hidden foundation of your favorite novels and films, and by learning to align the unique actions your characters take with these universal story actions, you can easily create compelling and propulsive narratives. 

Screenplay

By Syd Field,

Book cover of Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry's gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, read this book.

I have learned over the years that the principles of three-act structure can be recognised in, or applied to, almost every form of storytelling, whether you are making a film; telling a joke; designing a firework display; writing a novel, a play, a song; performing a magic act or making a speech. No one explains 3-act structure more clearly than Syd Field. He doesn’t offer it as a failsafe formula, but I have found his paradigm invaluable as both a writer and a teacher, especially for identifying narrative flaws in a story that is not working. (Usually mine).


Who am I?

I’m an artist, designer, writer. I usually work in collage. I enjoy how the constraints of collage generate more inventive thinking, forcing me to come up with unexpected solutions. I also like how the found material retains traces of its original context. I’ve always been interested in the interplay between words and images – for 15 years I did the weekly Lost Consonants series in the Weekend Guardian – and that gradually led me to writing fiction. All my books have visual or structural elements designed to bring an additional narrative dimension to the story. Over the years, I’ve become fascinated by what makes great stories great. Hence this list.


I wrote...

Woman's World: A Novel

By Graham Rawle,

Book cover of Woman's World: A Novel

What is my book about?

Five years in the making, Woman’s World is a 437-page novel collaged entirely from fragments of text clipped from the pages of vintage women’s magazines, reassembled to tell the 1962 story of Roy and his sister Norma’s struggle to live up to the prescribed ideals of feminine perfection. Immersing herself in the forthright directives on feminine protocol, Norma takes on the source material’s distinctive voice. The gulf between the magazines’ demanding standards and her real-life situation is bridged by the newfound vocabulary.

Empowered by its authoritative tone, she adopts and reshapes the words themselves to recount her thoughts, but what emerges is a tender love story threatened by darker underlying themes of unresolved family business.

Dialogue

By Robert McKee,

Book cover of Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen

This author is a renowned Master Teacher of storytelling art whose students have won numerous writing awards across the media spectrum. He covers dialogue writing for live theater, film, and television and offers suggestions on building effective dialogue writing skills, no matter the media, even showing how a dialogue line might change depending upon the writing category. He provides easy-to-follow examples of both good and bad dialogue writing in the various media categories.

Who am I?

Words have been part of my life since I was ten years old when my father suggested I read a page from the dictionary each school night. “Words have lives and histories,” he said, ”make them your friends.” In my teens, I saw individual words setting the tone for how someone felt, and I promised myself one day I'd write a book about words and how they were a window to one's inner self. Little did I realize that when I wrote that book, it would morph into one about dialogue writing and achieve international kudos. The book offers this simple truth: make sure each line of dialogue moves your story forward...


I wrote...

Shut Up! He Explained: A Writer's Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue

By William Noble,

Book cover of Shut Up! He Explained: A Writer's Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue

What is my book about?

Dialogue must contribute to the telling of the story said Victorian-era novelist Anthony Trollope more than one hundred years ago and his words have been a yardstick for writers ever since. A more recent novelist, Stephen King, wrote, “When dialogue is right, we know. When it’s wrong we also know—it jags on the ear like a badly tuned musical instrument.”

In Shut Up! He Explained, William Noble shows you how to write dialogue that sounds right and contributes.

Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays

By Lucy V. Hay,

Book cover of Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays

Lucy is a screenwriter and script consultant and has created a whole eco-system around supporting writers, with frequent blogs, courses, newsletters, and consistently good advice. It is almost like having a writing partner.

Who am I?

Julian Friedmann is co-owner of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and was the publisher of ScriptWriter magazine. At the agency, he has represented both book and scriptwriters for over 40 years and also acts as Executive Producer for and with clients. Julian is a TEDx speaker and is the author of the Make Money Screenwriting series, co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television, and editor of two volumes on Writing Long-Running Television series. He has taught at universities and film schools all over the world. He designed the MA in Television Scriptwriting at De Montfort University, and PILOTS (for developing long-running television series) for the EU MEDIA Programme. 


I wrote...

Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

By Julian Friedmann,

Book cover of Make Money Screenwriting Vol 1: Creative Strategies

What is my book about?

The first volume in the series Make Money Screenwriting, looks at creative strategies, the creative process: how to grab your audience; the physiology and emotion of being the audience; cinema or television - what format is right for you; SVODs, the streamers, and the new world order: writing treatments and step outlines that work; bibles: how TV shows are pitched; adaptation: pros and cons and more pros; writing prose, another string, another bow.

Written by an Agent with 40 years’ experience the book is a practical guide to navigating the creative aspects of developing a professional career. The focus of the series of books is on actually making money from writing.

The Writer's Journey

By Christopher Vogler,

Book cover of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

This is an indispensable craft book. While Campbell provides in-depth analyses of myth and storytelling, Vogler takes the structural elements of writing a hero’s journey and provides detailed practical guidance about how to write using this narrative structure. In a sense, Campbell tells us what the ingredients are, but Vogler gives writers, such as myself, an instruction guide on how to mix these ingredients in plot and character arcs. 

Until I heard him speak and understood the depth and detail of this essential guide, I didn’t realize how influential Vogler is. I see that influence in books and movies all the time. Many screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists have benefitted from reading his manual. In so many ways, my writer’s journey is captured by the narrative of a hero’s journey—a call to go on a creative journey, fraught with many challenges and frustrations, and it continues to this day. As Vogler…


Who am I?

I have come to better understand myself as a character in a wonderful story called life. That story, in this lifetime, is bookended by birth and death. It’s my own personal narrative of transformation and it’s ongoing. What will come next on my individual Hero’s Journey? Understanding this story structure provides me with insights and inspiration to make it a good story with a happy ending. It also helps me appreciate that there are many challenges to be overcome along the way.


I wrote...

Serpent Rising

By Victor Acquista,

Book cover of Serpent Rising

What is my book about?

Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards for Best New Age Fiction. A blend of mystery, suspense, adventure, and thriller, book one of The Saga of Venom and Flame recounts a heroine's journey of transformation into a warrior for truth in the great War of the Two Serpents.

Serena Mendez is a pill-popping dysfunctional who is haunted by trauma she experienced in her youth. She is unaware of her latent potential. A clandestine brotherhood hunts her for the threat she represents. To fulfill her true destiny and unleash the power within her blood, Serena journeys to six continents where she uncovers the truth of who she is, and what she must do. A warrior stirs—a Lightbringer… She is Serena Mendez… She is a Candelaria.

Tales from the Script

By Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman,

Book cover of Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

“You never really succeed,” Andrew W. Marlowe tells the editors of Tales from the Script, “You always fail at a higher level.” So: first you can’t finish your script, then you can’t get it read, then you can’t sell it, then you can’t get it made, then it’s made – but badly. Or, in Marlowe’s case, it’s made into Air Force One and you’re asked to repeat the trick. “Even when you get to the top there’s this realization: ‘Okay, the view is great, but tomorrow I gotta get up and start climbing the mountain again.’” If you find that depressing, don’t be a screenwriter. If you see it as a challenge, read on…

Who am I?

I am the author of four books of interviews with filmmakers: Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson (a Guardian Book of the Year), Story and Character: Interviews with British Screenwriters, Hampton on Hampton (an Observer Book of the Year), and The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft. I have written original and adapted screenplays and stageplays, on spec and to commission; contributed film interviews and reviews to UK magazines and newspapers; chaired Q&A events at book and screenwriting festivals; and recently published my first novel, The Vetting Officer. My next nonfiction project is a book of conversations with bestselling author and screenwriter William Boyd, for Penguin.


I wrote...

The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

By Alistair Owen,

Book cover of The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

What is my book about?

Producers and audiences are hungrier than ever for stories, and a lot of those stories begin life as a book – but how exactly do you transfer a story from the page to the screen? Do adaptations use the same creative gears as original screenplays? Does a true story give a project more weight than a fictional one? Is it helpful to have the original author’s input on the script? And how much pressure is the screenwriter under, knowing they won’t be able to please everyone with the finished product?

The Art of Screen Adaptation reveals the challenges and pleasures of reimagining stories for cinema and television, and provides a frank and fascinating masterclass with the writers who have done it – and have the awards and acclaim to show for it.

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