When you first start writing, the question “which is the best screenwriting book?” feels like a search for the Holy Grail. From Saving Cats to Heroes’ Journeys, everyone gives you advice on that one book to get you writing soaring visual epics.
There are hundreds of books out there, though. Which one is the one you should read?
The short answer is, “as many as possible” - so you can learn what elements of them work for you, then apply them in your writing to create the style that best expresses you.
There’s good reason to do so, and the analogy that works best is that it’s like learning to paint.
Imagine Picasso writes a book called “how to paint like Picasso”. Rembrandt writes one regarding his method. Then a deluge of further books - Vermeer, the impressionists, pointillists and dadaists - everyone has a book out.
But do you want to paint like Picasso? Or do you want to paint like you?
Old masters learned their craft by initially copying the works of the masters before them, working on learning before then branching out and adopting their own style. Finding their best way to express their art.
And when it comes to screenwriting, you have to look at what came before. That’s why regularly reading scripts is vital. It’s like analysing paintings.
When it comes to screenwriting books, they are painting manuals, addressing different ways of addressing story. Look through them and test them, as a way of working out the best way you would like to tell them.
The more you become comfortable with different styles, the more you can experiment with new techniques, new ideas. I use different structures for different films.
Keep it up and one day, hopefully you may be regarded as a master of your craft. And I’ll look forward to reading your book.
For further reading: A separate and funny article on the subject of learning your craft is below - it concerns the Helsinki Bus Network and how it can help you. Enjoy!