I’m not going to say a lot on this blog about the absolute basics of screenwriting – the three act structure, turning points, act breaks for TV, etc – so I thought I’d gather together some resources here for anyone who needs them.
Of course, these are my personal recommendations, based on what happened to be the most help to me. Other resources are available, your mileage may vary, etc, etc.
The first screenwriting book I happened across was Writing Screenplays That Sell, by Michael Hague, and I still think it’s the simplest, clearest one-volume guide to structure and character.
Add to that Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Not only are they excellent books, but movie producers will use a lot of the terms in these two, so you’ll need to know what they’re talking about.
Mastered those three? Move on to Crafty Screenwriting by Alex Epstein (and companion volume Crafty TV Writing is the only really incisive book on TV writing that I’ve yet found). And maybe My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter (some great stuff on character).
Got a finished script you want to rewrite? Try How Not To Write A Screenplay, by Denny Martin Flinn. And the invaluable 500 Ways To Beat The Hollywood Script Reader, by Jennifer Lerch.
And if you’re going to your first pitch meeting, you’ll need Ten Minutes To The Pitch by Chris Abbott.
There’s a good selection in the Links section of this website. And there are loads more I don’t have room to mention. Browse around, see who appeals to you.
For basic questions – script layout, what is an act break, how do I know when a new scene starts, and so on – John August’s http://screenwriting.io is the place to go.
And I must just just add an additional plug for Go Into The Story, probably the single most useful online resource: Scott Myers’ dedication to helping young screenwriters is phenomenal, and sticking around this site for a year is almost as good as putting yourself through film school.
It’s astonishing what you can learn from commentaries and special features on your favourite TV shows and films. For example, every episode of Leverage comes with commentary from the series creators and the writer and director of that episode (and there’s more material on John Rogers’ website). The extended cuts of The Lord Of The Rings are dripping with documentaries on every aspect of film making. And there are hundreds more I don’t have room to mention.
And don’t just use them to learn about writing. The more you know about acting, directing, editing, cinematography, even special effects and stunts, the better you’ll get as a writer.
GET GOOD FEEDBACK
This is the hardest thing to do, and the most important. Find people who really understand story and get them to analyse your script in detail.
Find an online community, join a writers’ group, make friends on Twitter and exchange scripts with other writers. And give as much as you take. Having to come up with a considered opinion on someone else’s work will teach you to analyse and understand your own more effectively. Help other writers get better, and that good karma will pay you back in the end.
Seriously. Watching films is not enough. Even if it is more fun. There are plenty of online resources with downloadable copies of produced scripts available for educational purposes – that is, to educate you into being a better writer.