1. A Story Is A Promise
by Bill Johnson
First recommended to me by a screenwriting professor, A Story is a Promise delves into the common problems of structure, tone, character and conflict that will make or break ANY successful story—be it in a screenplay, novel, or play. Unlike so many screenwriting books that assault the reader with anecdote and repetition, Bill Johnson’s mostly sparse analysis of what makes a story work is packed full of helpful advice and thoughtful insight into the inner machinations of good drama. First published in a limited run, A Story is a Promise has become the secret-weapon of many a successful writer.
2. Save The Cat
by Blake Snyder
Billed as “The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need,” Save The Cat was culled from years of author Blake Synder’s experience writing and selling screenplays in Hollywood. Penned in a laid-back, almost conversation tone, Save The Cat offers simple, straightforward solutions to a medley of common and not-so-common screenwriting challenges that have stumped many a good screenwriter. Focused primarily on the tricks and traps of successful, big-budget Hollywood films, Save the Cat is worth a helluva lot more than the $10.00 (used) price tag it is currently fetching on Amazon. HONESTLY—I wouldn’t recommend delving into a commercial Hollywood script until you’ve read this book.
3. Write Screenplays That Sell
by Hal Ackerman
Organized like one of his screenwriting classes at UCLA, Hal Ackerman’s Write Screenplays That Sell moves readers step-by-step through a lesson plan for improving one’s writing and coming out the other side with a screenplay that will, well… Sell. Praised by the best in the business, Write Screenplays That Sell is a bit fat around the edges, but never fails to deliver a one-two punch of professional insight and actionable advice. Based on his years of experience writing scripts and teaching students how to do the same, this book is a great read for screenwriters looking to make the transition from amateur to professional.
4. Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434
by Lew Hunter
A seminal book on screenwriting, Lew Hunter’s 434 walks its readers through the creation of a full-length feature screenplay, from concept to completed script. Pausing to discuss each and every element of the structure, dialogue, characters and story choices he has made along the way, Hunter teaches by doing, and actually writes an original script over the course of the book. For many writers (including this one), Lew Hunter’s 434 was where their screenwriting journey began. If you read just one book on screenwriting—you won't be disserved by this one.
5. The Screenwriter’s Bible
by David Trottier
A bold title indeed—but not that far off from the truth! The Screenwriter’s Bible offers an array of simply-put, helpful advice for newbie screenwriters, but ALSO provides a definitive breakdown of screenwriting FORMAT—something none of the other books on this list do. In the age of high-end screenwriting software, you may ask, who really needs to KNOW the basics of format? Well—you do. To know your craft is to understand, in part, how screenplays work ON THE PAGE. Even if you never look at it again, a thorough read-through of the formatting sections of this book will make you a savvier writer, and more aware of the options available to you when penning your next script. Buy it online or borrow a friend’s copy—trust me, nearly every screenwriter has one. Amen.