31 March, 2008


I was tagged by Sheiky and Fara to give my screenwriting book list quite a while ago. My hesitancy to do it wasn't to do with laziness (well, maybe a little bit) but I am a bit wary about recommending books or courses. I've known people spend a fortune on them but never actually write anything. Writing is an important part of the writing process and buying good books or taking expensive courses isn't a substitute for that.

Everything you need to know on how to write a screenplay is available free online or, putting all modesty aside, free on my blog. Heck, if you have watched enough stories you might not even need anything. After all Diablo Cody won a screenwriting Oscar for Juno - which passed the 100 million dollar mark - without reading a book or doing a course.

But the best screenwriting is a mixture of craft and art and you can't always get by on art alone. We need to develop techniques so we can find problems and resolve them. - which is perhaps where books can be useful.

There happens to be some really good and useful stuff that isn't given away free online and while not a prerequisite for a successful career, I still highly recommend the following:

"Writing Drama" - Yves Lavandier

I was given a review copy an embarrassingly long time ago but I have finally written a review which will be posted tomorrow.


"Story" - Robert McKee

The dude does get a bad rap for advocating formulaic stories but he can't help it if his disciples take things to extreme. The first thing he says in the book is:

"Story is about principles not rules. A rule says, "you must do it this way." A principle says, "This works... and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modelled after the "well-made" play; rather, it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."


"Writing Television Sitcoms" - Evan S Smith

The only sitcom writing book you will need which is lucky as there isn't any other ones. Recommended to me by a TV comedy exec.


"The Comic Toolbox" - John Vorhaus

The only comedy writing book you will need although there are other good ones out there. Recommended to me by everyone.


"Creating Unforgettable Characters" - Linda Seger

A practical and simple guide


"How to Write for Television: A Guide to Writing and Selling Successful TV Scripts" - William Smethurst

Written by a veteran TV writer/producer this is especially good for a beginner. He name-checks my website as an important resource so the guy clearly knows what he's talking about.


"500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader: Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend" - Jennifer M Lerch

She boasts that the book has been checked by real script readers who have become highly paid working screenwriters.

It's split into five sections. The first is about presentation of the script, including how to introduce characters, and also tips on creating a good concept and characters. The next three sections go through the three acts and deal with common problems such as with setting up a goal or the second act story stall or getting a good ending. It's especially good as it is in bite size chunks and entirely practical.


Far Away said...

yes might adopt 'Fara' - don't think I'll manage a feather cut though

Look forward to your review of YL - I'm still reading ;)

GP said...

Hi Robin

Not strictly true that there aren't any other good sitcom books out there: Marc Blake's "How To Be A Sitcom Writer" is excellent (http://www.play.com/Books/Books/4-/625601/How-to-be-a-Sitcom-Writer/Product.html) and his other book on comedy is good too (http://www.play.com/Books/Books/4-/662775/How-to-be-a-Comedy-Writer/Product.html).


Griff Phillips

Robin Kelly said...

Fara - That's what wigs are for ;-)

Griff - Blogger cut off the end of the sentence. I meant "there isn't any other ones I have heard of" ;-)

I know Marc's courses are popular but didn't know about the books.