Recommended Books for Screenwriters
I've said it before, but I'll say it again (and again and again): there is no one right path to becoming a writer, and there is no one right way to approach the craft. The books on screenwriting that I've included here all approach learning the art and craft of screenwriting from different angles.
I encourage you to read up on each and choose the book(s) that feel right to you.
(As a quick note, I do get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. So if you choose to purchase one of these books and do so using a provided link, Amazon will kindly throw some number of cents my way at no extra cost to you.)
Syd Field's Screenplay is a classic in the field. It's often the book recommended to new writers learning about the craft of screenwriting for the first time. In this book, you'll find an emphasis on how stories and screenplays work, through examples from classic screenplays.
"As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are fundamental guidelines to help all screenwriters—novices and Oscar-winners—hone their craft and sell their work."
The Screenwriter's Workout
Here, you'll get very much the opposite approach. This book is all about getting your hands dirty with the actual writing required of being a screenwriter. The explanations and exercises are unique--some like I've never seen anywhere else.
You may find that this and the previous book pair well together.
"The Screenwriter’s Workout is a complete training program for your mind - with over 75 exercises and hundreds of activities specifically designed for both new and experienced screenwriters to train the neural pathways that generate story."
Finish the Script!
This book is considered a college course in book form--in case you don't want to spend the money on school (which is probably a smart move).
"Based on actual class lectures and assignments, Finish the Script! offers an inside look into the screenwriting process as it's author writes a screenplay from scratch along with the reader. By taking a step-by-step approach to writing, Finish the Script!, ditches theory and focuses on the actual process."
The Hollywood Standard
Readers of this book will find the definitive guide to screenwriting formatting, which is valuable given that poor screenwriting will usually lead to your screenplay getting thrown out. Although most screenwriting books will go over format, this guy is up-to-date and goes way more in-depth than most other books on the craft.
"A reference for everyone who writes for the screen, from the novice to the veteran, this is the dictionary of script format, with instructions for formatting everything from the simplest master scene heading to the most complex and challenging musical underwater dream sequence."
Screenwriting is Rewriting
An unbelievably comprehensive guide to approaching the rewrite from every possible angle. (It's a huge book.) Although it's focused on rewriting, the principles certainly apply to a first draft; it just may be a little overwhelming to a first-time screenwriter.
"In Screenwriting is Rewriting, Epps provides a practical and tested approach to organizing notes, creating a game plan, and executing a series of focused passes that address the story, character, theme, structure, and plot issues. Included are sample notes, game plans, and beat sheets from Epps' work..."
The Coffee Break Screenwriter
The primary intention of this book is to break up the screenwriting process into little chunks, showing you that you can write that screenplay, even if you're working a 9-5 and have a family to come home to.
"At each step, writers are encouraged to 'Take Ten' and tackle an element of their script using the templates and tools provided."
What I love about this book, however, is how it approaches the story and first draft from a wide variety of angles. For those who don't yet know their process, this book has the potential to help find it.
The 90-Day Screenplay
This book presents a framework for writing your first screenplay in 90 days. Although I haven't used it in that way, I love all the different exercises the author includes for helping you find your screenplay.
"The 90-Day Screenplay was workshopped at L.A. Writers' Lab over the course of ten years.... [Its] method of structuring your story is organic, involving a rigorous inquiry into the dilemma besetting your characters. This inside-out approach avoids the distractions that frequently occur when one's focus is placed squarely on plot."
Unfortunately, I can't tell you which book or books will work best for you. I encourage you to check them out and go with your gut. (But if you insist on knowing my personal favorites, I'll admit that the last two on the list have given me the most mileage.)