here are so many screenwriting books out there that claim to be the best, so how do you know which ones to buy? Today we’re going to go through the very best screenwriting books. We’ll help you discover how each screenwriting book can help you break your story and open new doors in your career. Some people do a top ten screenwriting books list. We went with fifteen. These books are the sort of resources that writers at all stages of the process, and in all stages of their career, turn when they need a little insight. So come with me if you want to write!
- Save The Cat
- The Writer’s Journey
- Screenwriting 434
- Writing Movies for Fun and Profit
- The Hollywood Standard
- How to Manage Your Agent
- Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect
- Three Uses of the Knife
- On Writing
- The Hero With A Thousand Faces
- Conversations with Wilder
- Screenplay: Writing the Picture
- Adventures in the Screen Trade
best screenwriting books
1. Save The Cat
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is easily one of the most famous, and flat out best, books on screenwriting. Producers, studio executives and talent reps read Save the Cat more than they read any other screenwriting book.
Snyder’s book effectively breaks down the genres, and the beats that every good script should follow. It essentially creates a screenplay template that helps writers drag and drop ideas.
We have a whole post dedicated to the Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It'll help you download a template so you can fill in the steps on the beat sheet yourself. For an example of the beat sheet in action, see what happens when we applied it to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar screenplay.
Interstellar vs. Save the Cat • Best Screenwriting Books
This one is certainly in my “best screenplay writing book” rankings.
They call it “The last screenwriting book you’ll ever need” but we think the next 14 are just as valuable for different reasons. Trust us, young screenwriter, we wrote the blog on the best screenwriting books!
best script writing books
This is the book your screenwriting heroes probably read when it came out.
Screenplay by Syd Field was first published in 1979 and has accolades from multiple generations of writers. The immediate benefit of this book is that it set the standard for all books that came after it. The title says it all. There are no frills in Screenplay.
It’s the basic manual. The entire book is dedicated to getting you to do and sell your best work. If you’re looking for the barebones guide to the screenplay this book is for you.
The book spends time making you understand why the first ten pages are crucial, how to write visually, and even takes on how to approach an adaptation. It's an all-encompassing work that’s as relevant today as when it first came out.
Great storytelling advice never changes. This is the stand-by. The meat and potatoes, if you will.
top books on screenwriting
3. The Writer’s Journey
People have been telling stories for thousands of years. From ancient myths all the way to the modern web series. This book tracks that progress, and specifically how ancient mythology has an effect on present day movies and television.
Author Christopher Vogler, based his work on Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and emphasizes the classic tropes that have worked for ages. His work applies a deeper analysis of The Hero with A Thousand Faces as it relates to our society today.
What sets this book apart from the other is that it keeps it all feeling very personal. Like someone is rooting for you. This is the screenwriting book that will help you grown and develop as a person.
Learn more about one of the best screenwriting books, The Writer's Journey
It makes you analyze the people in your life and how you’ll react to certain situations. You’ll also find yourself classifying your friends into certain archetypes and figuring out where they are on their particular journeys.
It’s called “The Writer’s Journey,” but it’s truly one of the best books on filmmaking as well. It's a MUST on every screenwriter's bookshelf.
top screenwriting books
4. Screenwriting 434
Writer Lew Hunter bills this book as “The Industry's Premier Teacher Reveals the Secrets of the Successful Screenplay” and he’s not wrong.
In 1998, nine out of ten of the top grossing movies were written by a Lew Hunter student. Just in case you're a little rusty on the top earners of '98, here's the list.
Did one of the best screenwriting books really help make all these movies?
Take a second and let that sink in. Now, I have to admit something. I tried to fact check this claim and didn’t come up with anything conclusive, so don’t report me to Reddit Screenwriting.
The benefit to this book is very clear. Not everyone can travel back in time to take Lew’s class or go to UCLA. But reading screenwriting books like this is like being in his lecture hall and taking notes. Reap all the benefits, and don't accrue that student debt!
funny screenwriting books
5. Writing Movies for Fun and Profit
Writing Movies for
Fun and Profit by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant is a charming and humorous take on writing one thing — movies that make money. It’s a great tool for filmmakers and is one of the best screenwriting books because it provides a funny yet honest portrayal of what it's really like to be a working screenwriter.
This isn’t a boring screenplay format book. It’s about getting that money. They are WORKING writers. With credits for movies you’ve seen.
Night at the Museum, Hell Baby, Reno 911, Balls of Fury. Don't let the follow trailer for the book fool you — this screenplay book is legit.
This ain't your Grandpa's screenplay book
This book is as much entertainment as it is a serious educational tool. You’ll feel more confident writing scripts, performing pitch meetings, taking notes, and even living in L.A. after reading this book. Certainly in my “Best Screenplay Writing Book Top 5.”
BEST SCREENWRITING BOOKS
6. The Hollywood Standard
This book by Christopher Riley is a “must have” for every screenwriter.
It's the very first book I bought when I took my first film class in college. It is considered required reading for anyone who wants to learn the nuts and bolts of how to write a screenplay.
The greatest feeling in the world is hitting a stride while writing. You don’t want anyone to interrupt you. You just want to roll. Well, what do you do when you have a question about how to format something on the page?
Grab this book and have it handy. A quick flip to the index will show you how to format a phone call, denote a montage, or even use “dual dialogue” to show two characters arguing. I still have it on my desk today and use it any time I have a question.
This screenplay book has one standout benefit — it makes you look like a professional on the page. For my money, this is the quintessential guide for anyone starting out and has become my reference manual as I continue my journey as a writer. Riley's text ranks easily in my “Best Books for Writing Screenplays” list.
help on representation
7. How to Manage Your Agent
The subtitle of this book by Chad Gervich is “A Screenwriter's Guide to Understanding (and Getting the Most From) Your Hollywood Representation.”
It’s definitely for those a little further along in their careers, though it does contain advice on getting representation.
Once you have reps you may think the battle is over, but it’s actually just the start of the war. There isn't another book out there that answers questions about how to behave and deal with your reps.
And you'll have so many times where you'll need help figuring out how to deal with your reps. Good problems to have, sure. But problems none-the-less.
Gervich also comments on things other books don't like the internet, personal branding, and the state of Hollywood in the digital era. This is a must own as you get deeper into your career.
best screenwriting books
8. Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect
If the idea of crafting a 120 page screenplay feels daunting to you then this is the book for you. Author Claudia Johnson will help you focus on, and nail, writing a short film with a focus on human connection.
Now in it's 20th Anniversary 5th edition, Johnson's screenplay book includes 11 short screenplays, including My Josephine from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk). If that wasn't enough, you'll get access to an accompanying website where you can watch the completed films and get access to even more screenplay examples.
But the main benefit of this book is an exercise called The Le Menu.
The Le Menu asks the writer to craft five to ten answers to the provided questions. After you’re done that you have the basis for dozens of stories. It almost eliminates the excuse of “Writer’s Block.”
Absolutely in my “Best Screenplay Writing Book” top five. Don’t believe us? Try yourself!
THE LE MENU
Write five to ten answers to the following prompts:
- What I love
- What I hate
- What I fear
- What I believe
- What I value
- What I want
- What I know about
- People who made a difference in my life
- Discoveries that made a difference in my life
- Decisions that made a difference in my life
If you’re interested in conquering how to write short films or just poaching some of the great ideas and exercises in here for your features, this is the perfect book for you.
BEST SCREENWRITING BOOKS
9. Three Uses of the Knife
You want to be a writer because you have something to say. This is the book that takes that seriously. Of course it does, it's by David Mamet.
David Mamet has a lot to say to Screenwriters
This book is technically about playwriting but since Mamet crossed over into movies and straddles both worlds we’ve got to count it.
Mamet’s book is dead set on making sure you know that writing drama is essential for a human experience. What sets this book apart from the rest is that it comes at writing from a purely magical angle.
It’s not about selling out or entertaining, but about leaving behind something that matters to the audience. Your story matters and the great thing about this book, it makes you believe it.
This is almost more philosophy than craft, but can help get you out of your own head when it comes to writing and remind you why the stories you have to tell are so important.
books on writing screenplays
The veritable bible according to most aspiring and even most accomplished screenwriters. Robert McKee made his name from his incredibly expensive screenwriting classes and lectures.
The in-person lectures cost almost twice what it would cost to buy every screenplay writing book on this list. If you’re on a budget, it might be better to just read the book.
McKee's screenwriting books are thicker than an encyclopedia and work to tie the magic of the process and the practicality of structure together all at once. He's followed up Story with equally dense yet thoughtful volumes on Dialogue and Character, which are also highly recommended reading
McKee lists his famous clientele openly. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie all have used him as a consultant or taken his courses.
Robert McKee, author of many of the best screenwriting books
McKee's are some of the best screenwriting books of all time — they can be an arduous read but the advice is practical and actionable. McKee focuses on writers using notecards to outline scenes before putting them on the page. At the same time he helps you get at the more ethereal ideas behind writing. Such as...? “Write what you know.”
for novelists or screenwriters
11. On Writing
Stephen King takes us through his process in this first person memoir that’s part instructional manual, part diary. It’s also one of the best books on creative writing. Though King mostly writes fiction, the work is very similar.
King walks us through his career, from his early struggles being unpublished, to his near fatal car accident in 1999. Instead of the textbook like approach of other entries on this list, this book is written to be enjoyed.
One of the best screenwriting books provides more inspiration to write than anything
King’s voice sings off the page and he lets you revel in his self-deprecating humor and easily identifiable problems as he sits down to write. As we know, writing is hard. If you’re trying to procrastinate, or just want to know that even the greats struggle, then this is the book for you.
iconic screenwriting books
12. The Hero With A Thousand Faces
King Solomon once said, “There are no new ideas under the sun.”
Writer and anthropologist Joseph Campbell aims to prove him right, by analyzing all the tropes and mythos that goes into storytelling.
This is the oldest book on the list, first published in 1949. Chapters in this book include the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction, and The Transformations of the Hero.
The benefit of this book is that it comes at story from a very scientific point of view. Sometimes that makes it easier to figure out your character and plot.
Jaqen H'ghar is a literal hero with a thousand faces.
Campbell dives very deep into the ways stories have been told, the journeys heroes have gone through, and how they’re all related across all cultures.
This is definitely the most verbose book on this list but it's also one of the best books on creative writing and the history behind the process of telling stories.
It's a deep dive to be sure, but you'll come away from it as an expert on story. And that's pretty useful if you want to become a great screenwriter.And if you want more insight into how to apply this masterwork to your writing, check out out breakdown of Campbell’s Hero's Journey.
best screenwriting books
13. Conversations with Wilder
I mean, does it get any better than one of our most treasured writer/directors interviewing another one of our most treasured writer/directors about the craft? Here's Cameron Crowe's telling of his conversations with Billy Wilder.
Billy Wilder and Cameron Crowe
There’s many similar books in this same vein (Hitchcock/Truffaut remains a standout) but this is one of the best books to learn screenplay writing.
The book is a complete breakdown of Wilder’s most famous films, including The Apartment, Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, and one of the funniest movies ever made, Some Like It Hot.
Wilder wrote and directed across every genre in a time when few writer/directors could do that. He pulled it off every time, and is easily one of the greatest, and most versatile, storytellers the big screen has ever known.
These two men have very different styles but dig deep into the craft of writing, working with talent, and getting notes from studios.
Lots of screenplay books are written by people who failed. These two are in the Hall of Fame. It's the final book in my “Best Screenplay Writing Book Top 5."
best screenwriting books
14. Screenplay: Writing the Picture
Before we get into this book I want you to take a second to check out the author’s names. Honestly, they’re two of the best names on the entire planet. Rubin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs.
Missouri! Amazing! Okay, fine, back to the content.
The reason I love this book is that it covers the WHOLE journey. From inception, to outline, to first draft, polish, pitching, and selling. It’s all here.
Lots of books on this list specify one thing. But this book is a one-stop-shop. Also, in order to stay relevant, Russin and Downs update their work every few years.
They’ve stayed on Hollywood trends and they address the rise of digital media and video games as viable writing careers. The book is full of examples and practical tools for writers at any stage.
best screenwriting books
15. Adventures in the Screen Trade
William Goldman gives us a look into the life of a Hollywood screenwriter, and entertains along the way. This book demystifies the film business, and gives some insight on how they work behind closed doors, and what it is like to work with legendary filmmakers all told to you by a legendary screenwriter.
Here's Goldman in a lengthy but rich interview with the Writer's Guild on his thoughts on the industry and how screenwriting has evolved.
A long form interview with author and screenwriter William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade also takes you into Goldman's own creative process for screenwriting, and some of his classic tips and tricks. Many of the screenwriting lessons consider "standard" at your expensive film school were found and regurgitated from this book.
before the books
Read more screenplays
We live in a digital era where information is mere clicks away. If you made it this far you must be really serious about taking your writing to the next level.
This is a list of 15 screenwriting books that can help you with your writing, but the VERY BEST way to learn about screenwriting and screenwriters is to…
Pick your favorite movies. Pick movies you hate. Read them all and learn from the page. You can find over 250+ scripts to read and download in StudioBinder's script library.
Examine how the great writers tackle writing fight scenes, format their sluglines, and write realistic dialogue.
There are plenty of resources for you in this area, with the best one being the Writers’ Guild Of America, which publishes lists of the best scripts as well as plenty of resources for you to use as you continue your journey as a writer.
So there you have it. The best books on screenwriting. After you’re done reading them, it’s time to get to work on your masterpiece. But what if you’re still stuck? This isn’t the end. Brushing up on the details of plot structure keep them fresh in your mind and keep your pages turnable!
Check out THE ASPIRING SCREENWRITER’S DIRTY LOWDOWN GUIDE TO FAME AND FORTUNE. It’s one of the newest books on the subject and really gets into both the creative and business sides of the profession in a fun and informative manner.
Where’s John Yorke’s INTO THE WOODS?