My first foray into screenwriting was a disaster. Okay, not a disaster in the sense of a cinematic Titanic or because it caused several small villages to be burned to the ground. But aside from a handful of comedy sketches, it was a prose writer’s first real attempt to write a script. And it showed. But it taught me one very important lesson:
I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT.
(Actual footage of me writing my first screenplay)
Again, not exactly true, but I think it’s important to underestimate your knowledge whenever possible. If you go into a learning situation assuming total ignorance you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the things you do know and are good at. It’s once you’ve gained the information that you can then sift and synthesis.
At the time, I was aware that lots of books about screenwriting were readily available. In hindsight, I wish I had looked into these more before starting my programme, not because they could stand in place of it but because it would’ve given me a little more context about what I was learning in school.
Why 6? I mean, there are thousands of resources out there, and you should read as much as you can, in my opinion. I easily could have chosen 10. But if you’re just starting out I really think this is all you need to start learning the basics of screenwriting.
- Screenplay by Sid Field: An oldie but a goodie – for a reason. This was the first book I ever read about screenwriting and it’s been the most helpful book I’ve read so far about structuring the story of a film. If you’re looking for a great introductory book, it has to be this one.
- The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier: While this book also talks about structure, character development, and so on, where it really shines is an explanation about the technical details of formatting a screenplay. How else will you know how to write a montage or introduce a character?
- Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit: Even though I’m currently only working on one romantic comedy, the way this book breaks down the rise and fall of a relationship in a romantic comedy is useful in every genre of screenwriting. Does your film feature at least two people who interact with each other? Then you’ll find a use for this.
- On Writing by Stephen King: Half instruction booklet, half memoir, allll Stephen King. Stephen gets into the nitty gritty of writing and the challenges all writers face. Excellent motivation for dealing with rejection, “writer’s block”, and the overactive imagination that comes with being a writer.
- Thesaurus.com: Maybe this is just me, but 60% of writing seems to be finding the right word for any circumstance. Not necessary for first drafts but a must for rewrites.
- RedLetterMedia: Bear with me here. If you’ve heard of them it’s probably by way of the Mr. Plinkett reviews on YouTube, 90-minute-long videos made by a “creepy old man” detailing exactly how the Star Wars prequels failed as movies. I discovered the channel late last year while looking for an honest review of Ghostbusters 2016 and never looked back. Just from watching their videos, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my writing and my ability to objectively analyze what does and doesn’t work in films – on every level, not just storytelling. There’s a lot of crude humor and language, so if that bothers you I’d say avoid it, but if you enjoy that you’ll find it’s educational as well as so SO entertaining.
These won’t turn you into Quentin Tarantino overnight, but I think they’re a good introduction to screenwriting for people who are interested in pursuing it in school and as a career!
I’d love to hear from other screenwriters (new and seasoned) on what resources they turn to for help. I’m always looking for new reading material!