Looking for the perfect beach read this summer that will also help you gain new insights into the world of screenwriting? Look no further! Librarian (and self-described Professor) Lauren O’Connor shares ten new books in our Essential Books for Screenwriters list, including the best aids for writing your television pilot, understanding an actor’s process, and adventuring into the historic past—and the uncertain future—of Hollywood.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, all of these books are available to read in our Library! If you’re not in LA, you can purchase any of these books via our handy Amazon link. (Note that while we haven’t been paid or coerced into recommending the following books, The Writers Guild Foundation may receive a small commission of sales from any books purchased through the below links. These proceeds go directly towards funding our Library and Archive and our community outreach programs.)
ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman
Published in 1983 by master screenwriter William Goldman (All the President's Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, etc.), this book remains one of the best memoirs of working creatively in Hollywood. Combing through Goldman's practical wisdom, stories and jokes is a rite of passage for anybody hoping to make movies or TV. The experience gives insight and context to the immortal words, "Nobody knows anything."
ARISTOTLE’S POETICS with Introduction by Francis Fergusson
Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos didn't invent the tragic hero; neither did Shakespeare, but they all draw on elements presented in one the earliest and most seminal writings on the nature of dramatic storytelling: The Poetics. Here, Aristotle lays out criteria for what makes a good tragedy. Understanding these classical tenets -- like "hamartia" and the unities of time, place and action -- will undoubtedly give you more to draw on in your own writing and character development.
THE BIG PICTURE: THE FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE OF MOVIES by Ben Fritz
Within the last decade and a half, the studio model for making major motion pictures has changed fairly drastically. In The Big Picture, Ben Fritz uses an unconventional method of research (E-mails from the 2014 Sony hack) to chart how and why studios have become increasingly anchored by big franchises and superheroes. For anyone hoping to write movies, this is a great and eye-opening primer to the inner-workings of the entertainment industry.
THE HERO SUCCEEDS: THE CHARACTER-DRIVEN GUIDE TO WRITING YOUR TV PILOT by Kam Miller
One of the most-popular reads in the WGF Library, Kam Miller's The Hero Succeeds is a unique and comprehensive book on how to develop a TV pilot and series on the basis of complex characters. This book is especially helpful in that Miller provides examples of treatments, outlines and pitch documents as well as grids that break down popular TV series.
JAWS IN SPACE: POWERFUL PITCHING FOR FILM AND TV SCREENWRITERS by Charles Harris
Whether you're pitching your story or pitching yourself as the best candidate for a job, one thing is absolutely certain -- pitching is a huge part of writing for film and TV. Finding good information on how to "pitch" can be challenging. It's tough to wade through the bevy of books promising to help you make millions with your story idea. This book, Jaws in Space, helps to clarify the most basic elements of a pitch and how to prepare if you get a meeting.
THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Great storytelling is predicated on specificity of character. If you're building up your own personal library of writing books, these are great reference guides. Listing out nearly every possible human trait or behavior, these books help tremendously if you need brainstorming help in the development of your heroes and supporting players.
PSYCHOLOGY FOR SCREENWRITERS by William Indick
Audiences demand that film and TV writers create psychologically complex characters with equally complex behavior and motivation. As a writer, you can't meet this demand unless you understand the basics of Psychology. In this book, Indick presents basic concepts like the id, ego and superego and makes them relevant to character and plot development for screen storytellers.
RESPECT FOR ACTING by Uta Hagen
One of the greatest things you can do for yourself as a film or TV writer is to study (or, at the very least, read about) acting. Stories only move forward when the characters do something—"act." Uta Hagen helps to delineate how actors work from a place of drives, needs and objectives—of harnessing instinct and emotion into action. The more you make these principles a part of your own process, the better your writing will be. This book is a great place to start.
Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin
Concise enough to read in a single library visit, Rabkin's Writing the Pilot distills the basic elements of a television pilot into an 82-page credo. It's the kind of book you can read once you finish your pilot, then again after you finish several more drafts. Particular emphasis is placed on identifying and developing concepts that have engines and can generate stories for multiple season.