A Basic Library for the Screenwriter

A Basic Library for the Screenwriter

By Wayne Coughlin

Screenwriting is a craft with its own language, paradigms, processes and skills. Just learning screenplay formatting and calling yourself a screenwriter is like reading a book on surgery and calling yourself a surgeon.

The books listed below are the bare minimum for serious screenwriters. There are others which may expand and reinforce much of what is in these books. Take these lessons to heart. Know them like you know your name.

I know, you’re different. You are an artist. You don’t want to be constrained by rules. You want to forge your own trail. Flaunt convention. Well, all the truly great artists who forged their own path, discovered new ways to do things and made their own rules, all took the time to master the existing rules, etc before they broke them.

Go on, check. I’ll wait. Look up Picasso.

Back? OK. So here’s the list. There are other books, but in my opinion (and in the case of the “Holy Bibles” many others) these are my “go to” books.

1. Poetics by Aristotle

One of the Holy Bibles. An oldie but goodie. The final word on storytelling – which hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

2. The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri 

The other Holy Bible. His essay on “character” in this book is the perfectcomplement to Aristotle’s storytelling.

3. Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell 

The hero’s journey … say no more

4. Screenplay by Syd Field 

The guru of all screenwriters. The first book I bought and it’s still on my shelf.

5. Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434

A very practical book. Beyond the basics. The second half of the book discusses the writing of a script by actually following the process as he writes a script, The Glass Hammer.

6. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

How to write scripts that sell.

Loglines, pitches, beat sheets, how to put together a script that resonates with an audience.

Why something doesn’t work and how to fix it. A very practical guide to being a professional screenwriter.

Remember – writers write. All writing is practice. You wouldn’t expect to go out and compete at a Major League Baseball level without years of training, practice and hard work. Becoming a screenwriter is just as hard and requires a lot of work as well.

But if you study, write and keep trying – with a little luck … who knows?