screenwriting books

There are a whole host of screenwriting books on the market and their usefulness (or not) to writers is an interesting question. There’s undoubtedly a place for the best of these books but I think it’s dangerous to view any of them as gospel – better to cherry-pick the best from each, use them to re-energise and inspire your work as a writer rather than use them as step-by-step manuals.

As a script editor, I think some of the books are in fact far more useful to us on the other side of the fence than to writers themselves. They often provide a really useful framework for analysing and improving scripts – but trying to write a first draft to a whole set of prescribed plot points, act breaks and turning points is bound to sap some of the creative energy and turn the process into something more like grappling with a mathematical equation. And the likelihood is, once you’re satisfied you’ve hit all the requisite plot points, what you’ll be left with is something deeply unspontaneous.

Here’s a list of some of my favourite screenwriting books in no particular order:-

On Directing by David Mamet

Yes it’s called On Directing but it actually has some of the best insights of any book into the craft of screenwriting, particularly about telling stories through the cuts between scenes.

Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman

I was reminded of this by the South Bank Show on Goldman on Sunday night (26-4-09). More autobiography than screenwriting manual but packed full of good stuff nonetheless.

Image, Sound & Story by Cherry Potter;

particularly Part Three: ‘The Creative Process and telling Your Own Stories’. There’s a really good section in here on ‘Free-writing’ – the other side of the process from the formulaic, structure-heavy ‘rules’ in some of the (less good) US screenwriting books.

Story by Robert McKee.

Not as good as listening to the man himself – his three day talk is a brilliant performance – but there are a lot of really perceptive, fascinating ideas here. Also a lot of stuff you probably won’t agree with…

Screenwriting: The Art, Craft & Business of Film & Television Writing by Richard Walter.

Quite a basic introduction to screenwriting technique but very good nonetheless.

Story & Character : Interviews with Brtish Screenwriters. Edited by Alistair Owen.

There are many books consisting of interviews with screenwriters and this is as good as any.

– – – Part 2 of this blog on screenwriting books TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK… In the meantime it would be great to hear from all you screenwriters out there about:- whether you think screenwriting books serve a purpose, how they can be best be used to help your own writing processes and… which other screenwriting books you would recommend to your fellow-writers.

Philip Shelley