2013 Top 5 Screenwriting books

Here’s a blast from the past “2013 Top 5 Screenwriting books”. Over the years, I have set up and shut down a blog. I’ve been going through old files and collating my notes. I found this old blog post from six years ago.

I haven’t changed the original text too much. It’s hopefully more readable, and I’ve put in affiliate links also in case you’re interested in sourcing the work.

2013 Top 5 Screenwriting books

There are many good books would be screenwriters should use. Here are five of my favourites. Before we begin, I should mention that not all these books are “how-to” s and second there are two notable exemptions. The first is How Not To Write a Screenplay, that is because I don’t own it and have only read it once. The second exclusion is Story by Robert McKee. I left it out because I found the book too technical in parts. While that is not a problem in itself, it can be somewhat daunting to the amateur screenwriter. Books on screenwriting should not be memorised whole. Instead, they should be on hand and consulted. There is much to take in with screenwriting books, and many of them are written slightly dry.

Here are my top five.

5. How to Write a Movie in 21 Days – Viki King

While I would not tell you to take up the challenge of the title, there is much good advice in here. Viki King goes into the specifics. What needs to be happening on specific pages of your screenplay and guides through the why. She instructs how to get into the mindset of writing visually. She also provides you with an idea about what kind of screenplay you will write at the various stages of your life. This book deals with the content of the screenplay in a friendly, approachable manner. If you think you’re up to the challenge, go for it. (Buy it here)

4. The Seven Basic Plots – Christopher Booker

This book maps out the archetype for most stories. Through a wide range of sources spanning from Gilgamesh right up to the present day, we are shown the basics of the plot. Booker tries to explain the long-lasting appeal of plays such as Oedipus Rex and Hamlet. He looks at works that may defy classification such as the works of Chekov and Beckett. Booker looks at the rise of violence in film and how it reflects collective subconscious. You may not agree with everything he says, but it does provide food for thought. (Buy it here)

3. The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood – Joe Eszterhas

I didn’t know whether to include this or not. Seeing as the actual section on screenwriting is very slender indeed. Joe Eszterhas, however, is the only writer on the list who is a highly successful screenwriter, writing the likes of Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct and… um, Showgirls. If anything this book is an inspirational work. It exalts the usually lowly screenwriter. Read it to remind yourself that if your script is good enough, you can get it made on your terms. (Buy it here)

2. Screenplay – Syd Field

This book lays down the basics. It is the most instruction manual like of all on the list, and that is what I like about it. Field deals in structure and explains why scripts read the way they do. Syd Field has read many screenplays. He brings that experience to bear when it comes to analysing successful scripts. Texts such as Ordinary People, Pulp Fiction and Terminator 2. If you want to know about the basics, read this. (Buy it here)

1. Poetics – Aristotle

This might be a bit of an obvious first choice. I can’t recommend this enough; if you haven’t read it already, you can find it for free online. The strength of this work is through analysis of Oedipus Rex. It lays out the rules of drama; it is also a text that you will visit again and again getting something new each time. If you haven’t, read it here now.


How did you find that? You noticed how short it was. I used to fret over getting to a certain amount of words. Now, not so much. It’s also pretty wordy. Something I’m no longer a fan of.

I’m going to do an updated top 5. My tastes have changed and you’ll get a lot of benefit out of the new list.

Speak to you soon.

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