Some of the best tools for writing a screenplay are books. A one time purchase for a wealth of knowledge? Sign me up. But it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right book for your kind of writing and the best book to give you some useful tips.
So what different kinds of screenwriting books are there? There are books about screenplay format, screenplay theory and there are books of practical advice. All have their own unique purpose and are good reads but the best screenwriting books will have a little of all three.
One of the best books for understanding the formatting is The Hollywood Standard (2nd ed) By Christopher Riley. It is a great screenplay format book because it starts at the beginning, with the screenplay title page, and how that has a specific format and then goes through all of the details of each niche formatting precedent in screenwriting.
The book is also written in screenplay font, Courier New, and it very easy to read and understand. It offers lots of great screenplay format examples. It also makes for a great reference book.
It’s hard to remember all of the little details of what makes proper format, this book makes it easy to go back to when you have specific questions. It also provides plenty of screenplay examples that are most helpful when trying to understand the technical formatting.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in the theory of drama and writing and understanding reasoning and theory will help you write your own, the book The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri is available under screenwriting books at Barnes and Noble.
Egri wrote this book in 1946 and it remains today one of the best creative writing “how-to” books ever written. Few books attempt to analyze play-construction as well as this book, and its principles and methods are so valid that they apply equally well to the short story, novel, and screenplay.
If you’re more interested in structure, and less in format and theory, then Writing the Picture (2nd ed.) by Robin Russin & William Down might be for you. It is a very in-depth book about character development, story arcs, and compelling narratives. This is one of the screenplay writing books that offers advice on how to look at the big picture and write a cohesive story, which can be helpful if you get bogged down in the details of formatting.
Some other resources on the best books for writing screenplays and the best screenwriting books for beginners are available here. You can find some great screenwriting books on amazon. There are also more specific books like horror screenwriting books and screenwriting comedy books because both genres come with their own tropes and functions.
Making the Most
So now that you have the books, it’s time to make the most of them. Often screenwriting books have built-in exercises or you can make your own based on what the advice the book is giving you.
For example, if the book section says to use index cards to plan out your story arc, break out some index cards and plan out a story! It doesn’t have to be good but the practice of doing the exercise is what’s important. And when you do have a stellar idea you want to plan out, you’ll remember the activity you practiced.
Another great exercise from screenwriting books for building your writing skills is to write a script without dialogue. It doesn’t have to be a long or particularly good story but often scripts can lean on dialogue and the action can become underdeveloped.
This exercise is great for learning how to write descriptions, actions, and scenes without dialogue. It also challenges you to be able to create a short and compelling arc. Also, it forces you to get creative in ways to be expressive without using words. A great exercise you can do again and again.
Really the most important way to get the most out of your screenwriting books is to not read them in a vacuum. It’s hard to create art without seeing art. Screenwriting books are great but you can’t write your own screenplay without ideas.
Ideas can come from any source and it’s important to be reading and watching things that inspire you. Business books, poetry collections, non-fiction, horror novels, anything, and everything can be inspiring. Some examples are:
Another great source for inspiration can be to read the screenplay of your favorite movie. Often you can find screenplays published online, like the Pulp Fiction Screenplay or other sample screenplays and it can be helpful to see how your favorite movies transform from script to screen.
Once you’ve got your idea and your screenwriting books its time to get started writing! Another great tool is screenwriting software, it will help you maintain proper screenwriting format while you write. There are lots of great free screenwriting software and there are also plenty of great paid screenplay Softwares out there like Final Draft.
Starting your own screenplay can be hard but screenwriting books are great resources and hopefully, you can get the most out of them by using the exercises and creating your own. Now go forth and write!