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A Complete Guide to the Best Screenwriting Books

Posted on: November 28, 2022

Your favorite films all began with a screenwriter and an idea — but that’s not all you need to write a great screenplay. To enter the world of screenwriting, it’s essential to learn what skills, formats and expectations are required before you bring a pen to paper (or hands to keyboard!). 

How do you acquire the screenwriting skill set? By learning from other screenwriters and scripts. There are specific rules when it comes to writing a screenplay and getting the right resources will help you on your screenwriting journey. 

That’s why we’ve compiled the best screenwriting books and broken them down by subject. Whether you've just started writing, newly entered film school or have years of experience, keeping up to date with the latest screenwriting practices is critical, and we’ve got you covered. 

How do you become a screenwriter? 

From creating a pitch to developing a final script, screenwriting is an exciting profession. After all, summed up, it’s all about writing movies. But how do you get your foot in the proverbial door? What does it take to transform your screenwriting passion into a full-blown career? 

Keep reading to uncover the screenwriter's process: 

Gain insights from screenwriter pros 

Screenwriting is a booming industry with many working professionals, so why not take advantage of that? Below are two books written by successful screenwriting experts who can help you on your screenwriting path: 

Scriptwriting for Web Series: Writing for the Digital Age by Marie Drennan, Yuri Baranovsky and Vlad Baranovsky provides inspired readers with a complete guide to scriptwriting for web series (specifically in the digital age). This straightforward book outlines the difference between short- and long-form webisodes, as well as series and standalone pieces. They also dive into why they chose to enter the scriptwriting profession.

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Want a full picture of the way writers became screenwriters? Check out Bridget Conor’s Screenwriting: Creative Labor and Professional Practice, which explores the lives of professional screenwriters and their career trajectories — as well as how this impacts their daily lives and subjects.

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How to write for your film audience and marketing trends 

Writing a passion project script is a big deal, but it also has to have a film audience. A key indicator of whether a screen concept or foundation has the ingredients for success is to keep an eye out for global and national marketing trends in the film industry. By understanding what audiences want, screenwriters can better find investors and producers that want to support their vision. 

For an insider look into what can make a good script great, read Screenwriting for Profit: Writing for the Global Marketplace by Andrew Stevens. Screenwriting can be your passion, but it also has to be successful — or profitable — to be sustained long-term. Chapters 4 and 5 of this book analyze the key areas in the market to consider, as well as how to use that knowledge in your career. 

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Tips for the screenwriting process and drawing inspiration 

Once you’ve got your recipe for marketing and story gold, it’s time to get down to work. This is arguably the most daunting part of becoming a screenwriter: Committing to the writing stage and following through. The listed books below can help you get on track — and stay there: 

Get started with Screenwriting Fundamentals: The Art and Craft of Visual Writing by Irv Bauer and Vimi Bauer. As an introductory text, this book provides expert advice on prewriting your script and working toward completing your first screenplay draft. Furthermore it will guide you on key elements of character, location, time-frame and dialogue when writing for a visual medium, as well as the narrative aspect of screenwriting.

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Create a timeline for your writing project with the help of Diane Lake’s The Screenwriter's Path: From Idea to Script to Sale. Any aspiring scriptwriter can learn how to find story inspiration, properly write story structure and build your career. Drawing on Lake's 25 years' experience of writing screenplays for major studios, this book will empower you to bring your vision to the screen.

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Sometimes you need a bit of a kick to get started and this screenwriting book might be the perfect jumpstart you need. Screenwriting Tips, You Hack: 150 Practical Pointers for Becoming a Better Screenwriter by Xander Bennett gives writers the top tips for creating your dream script. Bennett spent years working in the “Hollywood trenches” and compiles his top 150 tips into this complete guide.

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What to do once you have your screenplay 

If you've read any of the above books, you’re more than ready to start looking into the logistics that happen after you complete your screenplay. This book is a great resource to help you take your first draft to the next level and beyond

For readers that want intermediate guidance, there’s David Landau and David Bennett Carren’s Next Level Screenwriting: Insights, Ideas and Inspiration for the Intermediate Screenwriter. This book guides readers through the ways screenwriters can upgrade and improve their scripts, from character to dialogue to theme. It even includes case studies and interesting challenges to spark film writing creativity.

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What is the difference between a scriptwriter and a screenwriter? 

In general conversation, scriptwriter and screenwriter can be used interchangeably. However, if you want to understand how they may differ in practice, it’s best to look at scriptwriter as an umbrella term. 

A scriptwriter is someone who writes scripts. This could be for any type of project, including for film, television, theater and radio. Meanwhile, a screenwriter could be considered a subsection of scriptwriting. It’s a writer who writes for “the screen,” which refers to content like film and television. 

The Best Screenwriting Books for Specialist Topics 

Every screenwriter brings their own background and life experiences to their scripts. This is invaluable to innovation and diverse storytelling within the scriptwriting profession. However, if you’re writing with specific topics, genres or budgets in mind, it can be equally essential to have resources for advice and guidance. 

We’ve compiled the best screenwriting books for writers who can benefit from those who’ve done it before. 

Writing an inclusive screenplay 

The modern world of cinema has grown more inclusive in the last few years and opened doors for many new storylines and characters to take center stage and screen. The benefits of this are numerous, and it builds upon the existing audiences that haven’t seen their stories told through the big or small screen. 

However, writing an inclusive screenplay may be a daunting task for some since the number of film experts and past successful projects can be more limited in comparison to the typical action-packed blockbuster.  

For help in your inclusive screenplay writing journey, take advantage of Jess King’s Inclusive Screenwriting for Film and Television. With in-depth case studies and analysis, this book investigates the traditional structures (for example, mythic structure) of screenplays and explores how to tell diverse life stories. 

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Writing screenplays for micro-budget films 

Not every screenwriter’s film project gets the budget it wants — or deserves. Especially at the beginning of a writer’s career, the film may end up working with a micro-budget. What does this mean for the script? In many ways, it limits story items, such as locations, character choices and wardrobe. These considerations and more must be anticipated in the script when working with a micro-budget. 

Learn from an expert through David J. Greenberg’s Screenwriting for Micro-Budget Films: Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Reverse Engineering Your Screenplay. Greenberg uses his own career experience and film case studies to outline potential challenges and how writers can create an effective screenplay for a low-budget production. 

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Creating film adaptations of existing stories 

Some of the best films have their roots in other written forms, from graphic novels to comic books to classic novels. Just look at the many successful adaptations that have been built from Stephen King books.

Transforming these existing stories into a compelling screenplay that works for its format requires a special type of writing. The story must be intact, but scenes, characters, dialogue, and more may be rearranged or rewritten to suit its new film or television medium. 

To learn more about this type of screenwriting, take a look at Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling by Alexis Krasilovsky. Written for intermediate and advanced screenwriters, this book tackles script adaptations with practical and up-to-date advice.

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Writing short films 

A short film is more than a short screenplay. It needs to tell a story within a limited time frame without sacrificing story quality or character development. A short story enables writers to include internal thoughts and feelings, but a screenplay needs to do this without spelling it all out.

Discover how to write for short films with Claudia Hunter Johnson’s Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect. This innovative book centers on the human experience and how it can be translated to tell the inside story and create great short films.

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Writing for specific film genres 

Each film genre has its own story, character and plot expectations that entice audiences. What’s a mystery film without a believable red herring? Or a romance film without an unexpected conflict to the main couple’s happiness? After all, Pulp Fiction became a hit due to more than just dramatic writing. 

Begin crafting your favorite genre movie with the help of the below books: 

Additional screenwriting resources from Taylor & Francis 

Get support on your screenwriting journey with Taylor & Francis resources. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert screenwriter, we’ve got books and resources that can help drive you to success.