10 Best Screenwriting How-To Books

And when they're a waste of time


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by Naomi Write + Co. in entertainment industry, screenwriting
screenwriting blog article

Screenwriting books. This might be a surprisingly controversial post.

Different writers navigate the learning curve differently. Some turn to the shelves and shelves (and entire stores) of screenwriting books available, looking for the one that will have the magic formula, the secret key that makes screenwriting easy.

And others think screenwriting how-to books are the root of all evil.

I’ve spent time in both camps. I’ve read maybe 90% of the screenwriting books on the market. Many of them felt like a waste of time. But not all of them. There are screenwriting books I still reference regularly.


Last week I had two conversations that inspired me to gather all of my top picks into one place.

First, a producer friend asked me to recommend some screenwriting books for a writer he’s working with who’s transitioning from playwriting to screenwriting. That prompted me to think about which ones, if any, I’d be willing to stake my reputation on.

Then, in the Screenplay Lab Facebook group, someone new to screenwriting asked the group if she should bother reading screenwriting how-to books. Or if it’s better to avoid that potential rabbit hole and just learn by doing (and reading scripts).

A lot of people in the group told her not to bother, but… even after reading so many unhelpful ones, I still think there’s good to be gotten from reading some.

Benefits of reading screenwriting books:

+ New ideas. For me, at least, reading always sparks new ideas. There’s something about the act of reading itself that frees up my subconscious to grind away on whatever story I’m currently trying to work out.

+ Insight is valuable. Even though many of the screenwriting books say the same thing in different ways, one of those ways could make sense to you in a way that the others don’t.

+ Learn by example. More than all the theoretical stuff, I like reading specific case studies. I don’t have time to watch and study every movie, so if someone else has done some of that work for me – great. I accept.

Of course, there are drawbacks too. Not every screenwriting book is useful, so at the very least it can be a waste of your valuable writing time. A few other things to consider…

Drawbacks of reading screenwriting books:

Information overwhelm. There’s so much out there you could waste days just looking through the options, and never even get down to the actual studying, absorbing, and implementing.

Analysis paralysis. Too much studying and prepping to write can make you afraid to start.

Procrastination. Your subconscious is sneaky, and may just be looking for more stuff to do (like the easy task of reading) instead of writing.

In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. But everything in moderation, right? Choose your resources carefully.


10 Best Screenwriting How-To Books

The Screenplay Outline Workbook: A step-by-step guide to brainstorm ideas, structure your story, and prepare to write your best screenplay by Naomi Beaty

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my own books on this list, but I truly believe The Screenplay Outline Workbook is an all-in-one manual to help you develop your story idea and plan your screenplay.

Logline Shortcuts: Unlock your story and pitch your screenplay in one simple sentence by Naomi Beaty

One of the topics I get asked about most often is loglines, so I put together this short, free e-book containing explanations, definitions, a process for writing great loglines, and plenty of examples. When you work out a logline you’re actually working out the basics of your story, so this book is secretly a concise primer on how to start writing your screenplay.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra

Writing Movies from Gotham Writers’ Workshop, edited by Alexander Steele

The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

This is an update to the list! I very rarely read a new screenwriting book that impresses me, but this one does it. Matt has solid, practical advice and tips to offer on pretty much every aspect of screenwriting.

Supporting Characters & Subplots by William C. Martell

I like all of Martell’s books, but this one in particular for its focus on topics that aren’t covered extensively elsewhere. Supporting characters are often overlooked by beginning screenwriters.

The 3rd Act by Drew Yanno

This one is deceptive. I read it a long time ago and thought – well, that was kind of obvious. Now, having just read it again, I think the breakdown of 3rd act elements is insightful in a way I didn’t appreciate when I didn’t know quite as much about how a screenplay is put together.

150 Screenwriting Challenges by Eric Heisserer

Full of great exercises to help you improve your skills. I don’t know where Eric Heisserer found the time to write this, what with all of the amazing movies he’s writing, but I’ll take it.


* Yes, these are affiliate links. All proceeds go to Wags & Walks animal rescue. I stand behind every recommendation.










  1. Bolurin says:

    Hi Naomi,
    You’re lovely. Your write-ups are always insightful and discerning. They reflect good understanding of the wondering minds of aspiring writers. Thanks a lot.

    1. Naomi says:

      You’re making me blush! Thank you for the kind words, Bolurin.

  2. Steven Snell says:

    Great list Naomi. As a former playwright myself I found the transition to full-screenwriter extremely difficult. One book that helped greatly was “The Mini Movie Method” by Chris Soth. It breaks down the three act structure to more defined units, providing the writer with a more rigid path underfoot. I would also recommend two particular screenplays: “Michael Clayton” by Tony Gilroy (for its swift action descriptions); and “Nightcrawler” by his brother Dan (for the way it gets the reader’s eye flowing down the left-hand margin). I see you already host the latter. Good choice.

    1. Naomi says:

      Thanks, Steven! I haven’t read Chris Soth’s book, but I do often think of my stories in 8 “chunks,” similar to his Mini Movie Method. I’ll have to give his book a read. Good tip!

      And agreed — you can read pretty much anything by either Tony or Dan Gilroy and be completely entertained and awed by the writing. “Nightcrawler” is like screenwriting candy. “The Bourne Identity” is also a good read, if you’re looking for another.

  3. Petra says:

    Hello Naomi, that is an interesting list, I don’t know almost all of them, and I thought I had already read a lot. Bummer. I was wondering what you think of John Truby’s ‘Anatomy of story’?

    1. Naomi says:

      Hi Petra,
      It’s been a while since I read Truby’s book thoroughly, so take this opinion with a grain of salt. I think my general feeling was that his storytelling paradigm seemed overly restrictive. I think maybe his 22 points work especially well for Hero’s Journey type stories? But felt like wouldn’t work as well for any other type of story. Anyway, that’s just from what I remember — overall, I didn’t find it particularly enlightening or helpful. But I think different things speak to different writers, so if it helps you crack your story then go for it! 🙂

  4. Stephen says:

    Glad to see that I’m on the right track. I’ve got a few screenwriting books, The Screenwriter’s Bible among them. You give such useful advice!

  5. Naomi says:

    Thanks so much, Stephen! Yes, Trottier’s book is a solid go-to, and I love that he updates it frequently. Would love to hear which others you’ve read and thought were useful!

  6. Rashi says:

    Hey! My friend is getting in to screenwriting and I wanted to gift him a book can you suggest me any one? I am very confused

    1. Naomi says:

      Hey there! If your friend is brand new to screenwriting, I’d suggest Save the Cat. It’s a really good, accessible introduction to story structure and screenwriting basics. Writing Movies by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop is a little meatier, and might be good if your friend has already done some reading and/or is really ready to dive into learning. Hope that helps!

  7. George says:

    I would add to this list. Eric Edson breaks down every component of a screenplay into sections so that writers can conceptualize their own vision before bringing it to life in print. This is done using simple language, and not complex industry lingo, enabling the reader to understand a challenging task in a conversational tone.

    Eric puts forth “23 actions that all great heroes must take” There is a formula for screenwriting, and you have to fill in every variable to complete a project successfully. This is not negotiable.

    Dialogue is an important component in the 23 steps and the bulk of every screenplay. Edson teaches how to do this in a way that makes it seem simple. You still need to write it yourself, but he brings techniques to the table that make the critical component of dialogue a little easier to swallow.

    Throughout the process, readers are shown examples and comparisons to current popular films to bring his points to life. It’s not necessary to have seen the films that he uses, because he provides a brief summary of the movie when he is making his point. Eric shows you which films work from a screenwriting perspective, and which don’t.

    Of all the screenwriting books I’ve bought, this one is my favorite. It’s the one I keep coming back to, because the writing techniques are so universal and easy to follow.

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Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.