I got this question the other day via Twitter: “What are your 3 top books for screenwriters?”

I’m currently reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.  While it’s not in my top three (yet) I highly recommend it.  As someone who sold many spec scripts, Blake Snyder has a great sense of what it takes to write a marketable screenplay.  It’s much more than the usual babble on three act structure and gives the reader a practical nuts-and-bolts approach to writing a script that has a good chance of selling.

But if I had to recommend just three books to screenwriters they would be (in order of importance):

1. Syd Field’s Screenplay.  I doubt there’s anyone in Hollywood who’s sold a script and hasn’t read this book.  It really teaches the necessary basics about how to structure a screenplay.  You can read my review of it here: https://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwriting-books/syd-fields-screenplay/

You can buy a copy of it from Amazon.com by going here: https://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/links/amazon/71

2. Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing . As a compliment to Screenplay I would also recommend Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing.  While The Art of Dramatic Writing was written for playwrights, it’s a great foundation for writing compelling drama and every aspiring screenwriter should check it out.  I wrote this review of it here: https://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwriting-books/lajos-egris-the-art-of-dramatic-writing/

You can buy a copy of it from Amazon.com by going here: https://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/links/amazon/72

3. Jack London’s Martin Eden.  Everyone who wants to be a professional writer should read Jack London’s Martin Eden.  It’s a sad but poignant tale about a man obsessed with making a living from writing.  While it’s in no way directly related to screenwriting it is a sobering look at some of the problems you will face as a professional writer and the struggle to get there.  The first time I read this book was shortly after I had sold my first screenplay, Dish Dogs. About half way through the book Marten Eden sells his first bit of writing, unfortunately it gets horribly rewritten.  I was in the process of seeing my own first bit of writing get horribly rewritten, too.  Martin Eden thought that after he got his first sale things would start to get easier for him.  He was horribly wrong and the struggle continued.  I have sold and optioned several screenplays since my first sale and I can honestly say it doesn’t get easier.  Many beginning screenwriters have the misconception that all they need to do is sell just one script and then everything will open up for them.  This is not usually the case.  Mostly it’s Martin Eden’s work ethic and unrelenting commitment to being a writer that I find inspiring.  It’s hard to imagine anyone not succeeding if they put forth the sort of effort that he (and probably Jack London, too) puts forth.

You can buy a copy of it from Amazon.com by going here: https://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/productlinks/amazon/Jack+London+Martin+Eden

4 thoughts on “My top 3 screenwriting books”
  1. I also would recommend “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days” by Viki King in conjuction with Syd Field’s “Screenplay”. Syd Field’s instruction is very structured and written for someone who has every detail of their story pinned down before actually writing it. Being new to screenwriting you don’t always know all the details of the story, or your characters surprise you, and reading anything by Syd Field is like reading a car manual when you don’t necessarily have the car. “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days” let’s you know it’s OK to not know everything about the story and is a little more encouraging. These two books together give a ying-yang type of balance.

  2. Definitely check out “How To Write A Movie in 21 Days” Once you’ve finished it (it’s actually so well written that you can read it on one day), you feel like you can write anything 😉 …whenever I’m looking for a new book about screenwriting, I want it to “encourage” me and give me that “WOW!”-feeling 😉

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