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12 Best Screenwriting Books to Read in 2020.

Underrated and overlooked books every screenwriter should own.

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by Script Reader Pro in Best Screenwriting Books
April 2, 2020 95 comments
Best screenwriting books 2020

The 12 best screenwriting books to read in 2020.

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter with the goal of breaking into the industry, here are the best screenwriting books you should read.

The screenplay books on this list…

  1. Explain things in a clear, practical, no BS manner (much like our own style)
  2. Are maybe underrated and/or you may not have heard of
  3. Will transform your understanding of any given area of screenwriting

So, let’s get straight into the best screenwriting books to add to your reading list!

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you buy a book we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

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Best screenwriting books #1: Your Screenplay Sucks! by William M. Akers. 

best screenwriting books
Akers is a lifetime member of the Writers’ Guild of America and writer of three produced screenplays. This book is great for helping writers really get to grips with the essentials of the craft.

The subtitle to the book is 100 Ways To Make It Great and it does just that. The chapters on editing sentences are particularly helpful. Especially if you’re one of the many writers who suffer from overwritingingus.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? Its no-nonsense approach that will make you see your writing style in a whole new light.

best screenwriting books

Best screenwriting books #2. The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra.

best screenwriting books
Pilar is the host of one of the best screenwriting podcasts out there, and now she’s written one of the best screenwriting books out there.

Her friendly but practical approach shines through in this really helpful screenwriting book aimed at those with 9-to-5 jobs and/or kids, who have trouble finding the time to sit down and write. As she says in the subheading, it’s all about writing ten minutes at a time. Highly recommended.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? The book is full of practical tools and exercises that you can run on your story that come in bite-sized ten-minute chunks.

best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #3. The 21st Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson.

best screenwriting books
Whether you want to write short films, features, adaptations, genre films, ensemble films, blockbusters or art-house movies, this book takes you all the way from choosing an idea to plotting, writing and rewriting.

The 21st Century Screenplay is essential reading for new and veteran writers alike and definitely one of the best screenwriting books you should read.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? The book features a range of insider survival tips on time-effective writing, creativity under pressure and rising to the challenge of international competition.

best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #4. The Idea by Erik Bork.

best screenwriting booksAs we state on our Logline Analysis service page, “The #1 mistake aspiring screenwriters make is digging into writing the script before they’ve had someone review the initial idea.”

The Idea tackles this problem head-on and will give you a full arsenal of tools with which to road test any initial concept and turn it into a bulletproof screenplay.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? Yes, many screenwriting books cover how to come up with an idea that’s good enough to turn into a TV series or feature film, but this one devotes 200 pages to it. And for good reason. Your script is dead in the water without a solid idea behind it.

best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #5. The Nutshell Technique by Jill Chamberlain.

best screenwriting books
In this book, sought-after script doctor, Jill Chamberlain, focuses on one key fact: while many aspiring screenwriters can write snappy dialogue or create interesting characters, many fail to craft a compelling story.

Instead, they create a situation. Her “nutshell technique” shows you how to take an interesting situation and turn it into a story.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? It’s very hands-on (which we love) and uses a ton of examples from well-known, up-to-date movies. Such as how your protagonist’s “want” expressed at the beginning of Act 1 should be granted at the end of Act 1, but not in the way they expected…

best screenwriting books

Best screenwriting books #6Getting It Write by Lee Jessup.

best screenwriting books
Out of all the screenwriting books on the market, very few address the problem many writers face once they’ve completed a great script: what the heck do I do with it now? That’s what Jessup tackles in this fantastic screenwriting book: how to market your screenplay (and yourself) in the industry.

While there’s no sure-fire formula to success, follow the pragmatic advice laid out in this book and you’ll be far ahead of the majority of other aspiring writers when it comes to starting a screenwriting career,

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? Jessup is a highly sought-after authority in the industry who knows exactly how it works and what the best approaches are to break in and achieve your goals.

best screenwriting book

best screenwriting book

Best screenwriting books #7. On Writing by Stephen King.

best scriptwriting books
Don’t let the fact that Stephen King writes novels rather than a screenplays put you off. This book is universally recognized as a classic text on the art of writing, regardless of medium.

The first half is a memoir detailing King’s journey from unknown writer to best-selling author. The second lays out his personal tips on how to write—95 percent of which is just as applicable to screenplays as to novels.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? King is a master of the craft of writing and packs this book with his very best advice on crafting characters, stories, dialogue, pacing, editing and much more.

Best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #8Inside Story by Dara Marks.

best screenwriting books

Quite simply one of the best books on screenwriting theme there is. If you’re struggling with how to track your protagonist’s arc, this is definitely the book for you. In it, Marks reveals how the internal character development of the protagonist informs the overall story and theme.

Essential reading if you want to learn how to make your theme resonate via the hero’s journey.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? While other screenwriting books often include a chapter or section on theme, this one devotes a whole book to it. As theme is such an important (yet overlooked) element of writing a successful screenplay, this is definitely worth purchasing.

best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #9The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

best screenwriting books“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”

So begins The War of Art—a modern classic on how to overcome that inner voice within all writers that says we’re not good enough and are probably wasting our time. If you know you need a kick up the ass to get writing, this is the book for you.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? We love this book because it speaks directly to our own philosophy here at Script Reader Pro. Quite simply the best screenwriting book that’s not actually a screenwriting book in the world.

best screenwriting books

Best scriptwriting books #10My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schecter.

best scriptwriting books

Did you know that act one in a screenplay has twelve very specific plot points? Many powerful story-telling techniques that Hollywood screenwriters have been using for decades are revealed in Schecter’s book.

A hidden gem and one of the best screenwriting books on the market on how to set up the core conflict in your script.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? Many screenwriting books rehash the same information on how to write in slightly different ways. This one, however, contains information you won’t find anywhere else.

best screenwriting books

Best screenwriting books #11Save the Cat Strikes Back! by Blake Snyder.

best screenwriting books
There’s a whole series of Save The Cat screenwriting books and this second one is just as good, if not better than the first one. We think this is the best screenwriting book for understanding concepts and loglines that we’ve found anywhere.

Its section on how to come up with a rocking logline is exceptional. The rest of the book also includes gems such as “the difference between structure and formula” and “the 5-Point Finale” to finish a script.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? Much like the original Save the Cat book, this one is pretty inspiring and will show you how to find the greatness in any story.

best screenplay books

Best screenwriting books #12. Into the Woods by John Yorke.

best scriptwriting books

This book is by a British screenwriter so there are quite a few references to UK movies and TV shows you may not have heard of. Nevertheless, this is definitely one of the best screenwriting books to have come out in recent years.

Its focus is on story structure and storytelling as an art-form and will send you back to your script with a newfound sense of enthusiasm.

Why is it one of the best screenwriting books to read this year? As opposed to being a purely craft-based screenwriting book, this one takes the reader on a philosophical and psychological journey deep into the heart of storytelling.

best screenwriting books

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Best screenwriting books: The classics.

If you’re wondering where Screenplay by Syd Field or Story by Robert McKee are, below you’ll find the classics found in most “best screenwriting books” lists that are also worth checking out if you haven’t already.

The Art Of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

 Screenplay by Syd Field

 Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hague

The Sequence Approach by Paul Joseph Gulino

 Story by Robert McKee

 Making A Good Script Great by Linda Seger

 Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

 The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Best screenwriting books: filmmaking.

We would also highly recommend reading more general books on the film industry and theory such as:

Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind

 Independent Ed by Edward Burns

 Like Brothers by Jay & Mark Duplass

 Breakfast With Sharks by Michael Lent

 Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman 

 Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

 Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut

 Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Stijll

In other words, you need to pretty much immerse yourself in the world of cinema, 24/7. Learn as much as you can through reading, not just the best scriptwriting books, but books about directing, editing and producing as well. It all helps.

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What are the best screenwriting books you’ve ever read? Let us know in the comments section below. And also if you think we’ve made any glaring omissions.

best screenwriting books

Enjoyed this post? Check out more of the best screenwriting books to read…

The 3 Best Screenwriting Books for Beginners You Should Own

Screenwriting Books That’ll Revolutionize Your Writing

50 Best Screenplays to Read and Download in Every Genre

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

95 Comments
  1. Diane Joy Schmidt says:

    Each chapter is written by a different screenwriter. It is written in a language I could understand. “Writing Movies: The Practical guide To Creating Stellar Screenplays”
    Gotham Writers Workshop Edited by Alexander Steele

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the heads-up, Diane!

  2. William Dalmas says:

    I love reading Screen writing books and Getting It Write by Lee Jessup is my all time favorite. Read my blog about Writing Books That Can Transform People.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Regards
    William

  3. Castro mm says:

    Great recommendations… but I’m still struggling to understand why Coen brothers, Tarantino, Tony Gilroy, David Mamet and tenth of other top Hollywood screenwriters don’t write or teach how to write a screenplay. Most books written about writing screenplay are by none screenplay writers …. Just read great scripts and watch great films from real masters .

  4. Len Burns says:

    What an informative list, accompanied with strong recommendations in the comments section.
    Even a one-eyed cyclops should be able to make it to the top of the screen writing pile after reading just half of these.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good point 🙂

  5. Robin Chappell says:

    Linda Segers “Make a Good Script Great.” Read that back in the 90’s, and have finished a dozen scripts — feature and shorts — since. Even more in “various stages.”

    Now. Do the Best How To Sell Your Screenplay books. That I’m interested in.

  6. Joe Augustyn says:

    Max Adams’ book is well worth the price.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, will check it out.

  7. Jim says:

    The Craft of Scene Writing is first to focus solely on scenes.

  8. John says:

    Thank you v. interesting screenwriting books ideas .

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, John!

  9. Karen Levine says:

    SHOULD READ THUS SOONER than LATER…”TUCSON TERROR”(THE LEVINE PROJECT) A NONFICTION CRIME BOOK…..A HARROWING UNBELIEVABLE TRUE STORY..www.thelevineproject.com

  10. Brian says:

    Check out ‘THE SCREENWRITER’S WAY’. Perfect to build the elements of your story and writer’s process as a set up to writing the script.

  11. Gigi Taylor says:

    Which one is the one to read for TV script writing? Thanks!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Learning how to write is pretty much the same for screenplays and TV but you’ll find a couple of examples of specific books for TV in this post.

  12. Naomi Vincenzo says:

    I just read My story can Beat up your story thank you for the reccomendation Script Reader its really helped!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, it’s a great book, thanks for the comment, Naomi!

  13. Writer Ella says:

    Have you NOT read “Screenplay” by Sid Field?!? How can it not be on this list??

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      As we say at the beginning of the post, this list focuses on the best screenwriting books many writers haven’t heard of, not the tried and trusted “classics.”

  14. Gabriella Bedsworth says:

    Just read “The Idea” by Erik Bork. If you haven’t read it you need to read it and it will probably make your top 10 list.

  15. Ian Brumpton says:

    Good choices, to which I’d add the The Complete Screenwriting Course by Charles Harris (who set up the London Screenwriters Workshop back in the day), it’s great on structure & lays out a comprehensive A-Z process for new writers to build their film scripts with. Very practical.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Ian – we’ll check it out!

  16. Lincoln says:

    Guess Robert McKee’s Story isn’t good enough for this list…

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Please read our answer to “Writer Ella” 🙂

  17. ade olusesi says:

    This is a great list. A wonderful aid for an aspiring writer like me. Kudos SRP!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks a lot, Ade!

  18. Trent Silvers says:

    Great list, thanks for sharing!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Trent!

  19. Francine E says:

    Good list but I don’t know how you can leave Richard Walters book of it.

  20. Craig says:

    I find Building a Great Screenplay vastly superior to any book on your list. Howard was chairman of USC’S Screenwriting Department for years.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks.

  21. Oscar says:

    Thanks for these screenwriting books. Have a great day. Bye

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Oscar!

  22. Francine says:

    This list is fantastic! Thanks guys.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the shoutout, Francine!

  23. Jude StClair says:

    Now I’m confused. Whats the NUMBER one must have for someone who doesn’t know squat?

  24. Tom Richardson says:

    You’re forgetting THE ASPIRING SCREENWRITER’S DIRTY LOWDOWN GUIDE TO FAME AND FORTUNE. One of the best new books around, a fun read, and deals with the market of today.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the heads-up, Tom.

  25. houshang falah says:

    Hi Everyone!

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    Not only is this an awesome deal, but your enrollment will help my
    class trend on Skillshare, which means that more students will be able
    to discover it.
    If you know of anyone else that’d be interested to learn Screenplay
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    Thanks so much!
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  26. Alfredo says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me or are “best screenwriting books to read” lists a waist of time?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Screenwriting books help a great many aspiring screenwriters, Alfredo, but you’re right: it’s all subjective in the end.

  27. Terence Patrick Murphy says:

    I’d like to put in a plug for my two books, the first is called The Fairytale and Plot Structure; the second is called From Fairy Tale to Film Screenplay: Working with Plot Genotypes. What I do, particularly in the second book, is marry the three-act structure of Syd Field to the work of Vladimir Propp in order to come up with the concept of the plot genotype. The plot genotype is the narrative DNA of the Hollywood screenplay. What I offer is a more detailed understanding of what transpires from the beginning of the movie until the first Plot Point, as that is understood by Field, and then from the first to the second Plot Point, and then to the end of the film. It’s a structure that shows both a kind of uniformity and a nice flexibility. I promise you that you will be given new insights into the structure of all stories by a careful reading of my two books.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, good luck with the books, Terrance.

  28. David Ward says:

    I see there is no Story on here by Robert Mckee. How can you miss that one off a supposed best screenwriting books list?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We mention it at the top of the post as a book most people have heard of. (It’s also not the clearest or easiest of reads.) This is more a list of the best screenwriting books to read that aspiring writers might not be aware of.

  29. Khalid S says:

    I do agree with most of the books you have presented here but could you please include more? 10 is not enough.

  30. Davy White says:

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Davy!

  31. Tawnya Harris says:

    Where can I find the script to If Beals street could talk?

  32. Kerri Stillman says:

    I especially love the Nutshell Technique by Jill Chamberlin. Typical of Script Reader Pro to include it, you guys are on the ball!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the shoutout, Kerri – really appreciate it!

  33. Paul Jacobs says:

    Tһis informatіon iѕ priceless. How can I find more screenwriting books like these?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We regularly feature the best new screenwriting books in our newsletter.

  34. charles mario ruiz says:

    there’s a helluva lo MORE that you left out than those listed…do not have the time to list them all…sorry.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Okay… A blog post can’t go on forever, though.

  35. Mike Laman says:

    I love this list and I could add a few titles from my own library. The problem I have with all these books is: it takes lots of time to read and incorporate their ideas into
    your writing process. Some of these books work against each other. If you’re aren’t careful, you end up reading more about the writing process than doing it. Did or would the great screenwriters of the past read all these books? I doubt it. Read scripts, do outlines, then write, and rewrite. Create new pages daily or you will never produce anything.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, you definitely don’t want to get caught up just reading and not writing.

  36. Tess says:

    Screenwriting is Rewriting by Jack Epps? I’m reading it now….it’s great.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the heads up, Tess.

  37. Donovan Walker says:

    Many great creative geniuses adhered to existing forms. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel each re-invented music itself with their content, but stuck strictly to classical forms like the Sonata form for a symphony. True, Debussy broke every rule of form just as Picasso did, but unless you are that one in a billion, you’ll succeed far better adhering to established forms. Just re-invent with your content.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good point 🙂

  38. Donovan Walker says:

    I flat-out love the “Save The Cat” series, even though Blake forced a complete restructuring and subsequent rewrite of my first project. I now wear a “WWBSD?” bracelet when writing.

    Someone mentioned “The Hollywood Standard” – fantastic book; everyone should own it. However, it is a format guide, not a screenwriting book. It won’t help you with characters, dialog, theme or story, but only help you put those elements down on paper in a way that’ll pass any reader’s sniff test.

    Several of these others sound very interesting. I’m looking forward to getting to know them.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Donovan. We love STC too.

  39. Paul says:

    Pablo Picasso learned to paint first in a Naturalist style before he broke the mould.
    Books are not the place for instruction on anti-narrative or post-structure. That’s more the realm of craft practise, journals and academic analysis.
    Multi-protagonists require brilliant writing talent and craft. Plus we normally only see the resulting film so there is a bias towards Writer-Directors.
    Alternative structure is probably best handled as a chapter in a broader book, but really again it’s an advanced topic for professional writers or the artiste.

  40. Peter says:

    I’m surprised that Donna Michelle Anderson’s book “Write It, Pitch It, Sell Your Screenplay” is not on your list. I found DMA’s book to be a clear, rational, no-nonsense, unified guide to all aspects of structure, character development and marketing/selling a screenplay.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, we’ll check it out.

  41. Richard says:

    You left out The Screenwriting Quick Start.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Richard. I think that’s a great book!

  42. Molly says:

    I second Richard Walter’s book. But I would definitely add Classical Storytelling and Contemporary Screenwriting by Brian Price to the list. It’s both philosophical (why we tell stories) and practical (how to tell a good story well).

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Molly – great suggestions!

  43. DIANE WILLIAMS says:

    The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. It helped me pick out the best elements of a true story to tell.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes that’s another good one – too many to list 🙂

  44. Jonathan says:

    The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley is my bible!

  45. Mario says:

    I highly recommend the power of film by Howard Suber

  46. Sam Kesler says:

    Thank You! Great list.
    Other favorites of mine:
    The Secrets Of Story – Matt Bird
    Screenwriting For Neurotics – Scott Winfield Sublett
    Extreme Screenwriting – Barb Doyon

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Interesting additions – I’ll look into those. Thanks a lot!

  47. Gary says:

    How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flinn is a good one too.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It is – thanks Gary!

  48. Pauline says:

    I have never seen such a variety of Screenwriting books that deal with the problems I am having with my scripts. You can be assured I get everyone on the list.

  49. Jack says:

    I’m not sure about Save the cat – he complains about more complex screenplays.

  50. Sandra says:

    You can be assured I get everyone on the list. Great list of screenwriting books. I also like the book screenwriting for dummies.

  51. Alex says:

    I am surprised Screenplay: Writing The picture
    By Robin U. Russian and William Missouri Downs is not here… I highly recommend it… it makes things easy to understand and flows seemingly throughout…. Student at A University studying Film and Television and that book really is great

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great idea – thanks Alex.

  52. Shiv says:

    I second reading the Nutshell Technique by Jill Chamberlain. It’s one of the few books that links character arcs to plot points in a simple and easy way to understand and implement.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Shiv, not read this one so I’ll check it out.

  53. Jacob says:

    I love your list! Thanks for putting this together. I’ve read most of these books and I have to agree they’re great to nail the screenwriting basics. My favorite one is Inside Story – it was super helpful!

  54. Thomas says:

    No books here on alternative structure, anti-narrative, post-structure or multi-protagonists.

  55. Tully Archer says:

    “Writing Movies For [Fun And] Profit” was great, in my opinion. Hilarious as well as informative.

  56. Lance Thompson says:

    Good list. I would add “The Elements of Screenwriting” by Irwin Blacker. It’s been around forever, concise, useful.

  57. John Carey says:

    “The Screenwriter’s Bible” “Your Screenplay Sucks” “Screenwriter’s Compass” all very much worth reading, studying, and then going over your script again, and again.

    1. SRP says:

      Agreed, John 🙂

  58. Victoria says:

    Read The Nutshell Technique be Jill Chamberlain. It will be on this list after you read it.

    1. SRP says:

      Thanks for the heads up, Victoria.

  59. Michael Williamson says:

    I am bit disappointed that Richard Walter’s (UCLA) Essentials: The Art, Craft and Business of Television and Film Screenwriting is not included in this list; I put him above Robert McKee, easily.

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