If you go to Amazon and type in screenwriting books, you'll get bombarded with hundreds and hundreds of books.
So I decided to go through the books that I've purchased over the last four years or so. I think it came to a grand total of thirteen. That's quite a lot, but it's still a lot cheaper than paying to do a writing degree or an MA or going off on some ludicrously expensive seminar run by someone who has never written a feature script, let alone written one and had one produced. But I'm going off on a tangent. Back to the books.
The first book I bought on screenwriting was Writing a Screenplay – New Ed -- by John Costello. It's been ages since I read it. But I seem to remember that it was relatively cheap and easy to understand. It wasn't bogged down by over analysis where the author tried to make up for their shortcomings as a writer and storyteller by using large words to compensate for their own lack of storytelling skills. 6/10
What follows below is a list of the other twelve books on screenwriting that I've purchased. I've given a brief note on them and a grade out of ten. Of course this is all subjective as with anything. It's just my opinion.
The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing Formatting & Selling Your Script
I think this was the second book I purchased. It's easy to understand and it comprises of six small books. I generally use it for reference should I forget how to format something. It doesn't over complicate things, and try to be anything more. It gets 7/10 because it's easy to understand and digest.
I'd heard good things about this book and its author. So I was keen to get a copy of it. Unfortunately when it finally arrived and once I started to read it. All I can say, what a disappointment. The author does his very best to over complicate things with over analysis. Not to mention, it's a real struggle to get through. Very dense and reads more like a badly structured novel.
Many recommend it. I don't.
Save the Cat!: The Only Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need
True. It is formulaic. And he does try to mold certain films into his beat sheet. But as a starting guide and something you can hang the structure of your story on. You won't go far wrong with this book. It's very easy to read and understand. He doesn't over complicate things with silly jargon and over analysis, making out that he knows some hidden secret. Blake Snyder came up with a formula that for the most part is extremely easy to understand. And unlike a lot of these self professed gurus out there.
He's actually written scripts that have been made into feature movies and optioned scripts. Those movies may not have been the best, but he's been there and done it.
Definitely a book I would recommend, especially if you've written a couple of scripts already. It'll help point you in the right direction. 8/10
Tales from the Script
Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman
A truly insightful book at how the professionals go about it. Well worth the purchase. With some very motivational stuff.
The DVD isn't a bad buy either. I watch it every so often just for motivation. 9/10
Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter's Guide to Every Story Ever Told
The second book in the series. Snyder tries to squeeze movies into his beat sheet. Some of them work. While others in my opinion, don't. If you've bought the first, you may want to buy this one. I think Blake Snyder has good intentions, but I just don't think his thinking behind it makes sense. His beat sheet isn't going to work for every movie. And trying to write every screenplay to a formula and have every scene hit some magic page number just isn't realistic. It is also quite restrictive and holds the writer's creative abilities back.
If you've only written two or three screenplays, then you may want to get it. But don't hold yourself to it. Take what you can from it and then put it away. 6/10
Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwiters to Get into... and out of.
This is more of an extension of the first book. Looks at structure and expands on it. I seem to remember enjoying reading it. And if you have the first book. It's definitely worth considering.
It's a great shame Blake Snyder passed away. 7/10
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood's Top Writers
Very similar to Tales from the Script
Very insightful. The author breaks the book into parts. Definitely worth a purchase. 8/10
Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!
Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Heard good things about this as soon as it was released. So I immediately bought myself a copy. And I wasn't disappointed.
It takes a humourous look at the industry. There's a couple of chapters that seem like filler. But on the whole a very good read. One of my favorite chapters was How To Handle A WGA Arbitration.
Their movies may not be Oscar contenders, but at the end of the day. They work in the industry.
Definitely worth a look. 8/10
Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath
Subtext is one of the areas of writing that you can struggle with. And this looked like an interesting read that I thought might shed some light on that area. I think the first two chapters were useful to some extent, but the rest felt like padding. I was hugely disappointed after reading through this. There was nothing insighful or wonderful. If you're thinking about it, don't. Read scripts, keep writing and keep learning through doing, rather than reading.
Adventures In The Screen Trade
If you want to be a writer and even if you don't. This is a wonderful insight into the movie industry. Especially from the point of view of a writer. Definitely worth getting yourself a copy and reading. Perhaps a little dated, but don't let that stop you. Nobody Knows Anything.
Which Lie Did I Tell?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, Misery, The Princess Bride. Need I say more? It's a little dated now, being written back in the '80s. But there's still quite a lot of relevant stuff in it. He also refers to Butch Cassidy quite a lot. But, hey, it's his book, he can do what he wants.
Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great
William M Akers
The author has written a number of feature screenplays and had a few movies made. I've read through it a number of times. It's more about improving your script from the reader's point of view. Making sure that what you've written is as good as it can be I seem to remember. Definitely worth a read if you can get yourself a copy.
And I think that's it. I generally don't refer to any of the above books now, apart from The Screenwriter's Bible. I tend to work things out for myself rather than rely on someone else's point of view.
When it comes to buying books. My only piece of advice would be to check who the authors are and what role they have played in the industry. I have found that more often than not you'll get people who have never had a feature screenplay produced or worked in the industry. And yet they are quite happy to call themselves a guru on the subject and charge writers for their advice. When in fact they've never done it themselves.
How can you teach someone how to do something when you've never actually done it yourself? There are a lot of people who are quite happy to take money off writers. Just be careful where you go for this help. But again, I'm going off on a tangent.
And write. And keep writing.
It's hard work. But keep at it. Don't give up.