Read any good books recently?

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Ask anyone what the best book on screenwriting is and you’ll get a multitude of different answers. Because everyone is different and writes in a different way. Hence, different writers share their approaches to writing in different ways.

Reading a book on screenwriting will not make you a successful writer. Reading 100 books on writing won’t either but, as part of your arsenal of tools, they are indispensable in the process to becoming a better writer.

The books in the image above are my books. I’ve read the usual, Field, McKee, Goldman, Vogler as well as the ubiquitous Snyder and have found them all useful. However, I don’t subscribe to any one of them as the ONLY way to write. And this is the trick with text books on writing (and any writing “rules”). Read them, by all means, but remember they are another writer’s take on the art of writing. Use them to inform your process and develop it, but use what you find works for you, rather than what someone else tells you should work.

Just don’t read one book and stop there. If you do, you may well blind yourself to the variety of ways in which you, and others, can write. There is no “one way” to write (something I am sure we will come back to as this blog develops) so don’t limit yourself!

Having said all that, if you can only ever afford to buy one book on screenwriting, one of the first I read, and one that is always close to hand (which is why it isn’t in the photo) is Dave Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible. It too will not give you the one, guaranteed way of writing a multi-million dollar script but it will give you some great insights when you are starting out. What I particularly like about it are the extensive sections on formatting conventions which will help get you going with your scripts.

What are your thoughts on the use of text books as a writer?

And, if you have read any books on screenwriting you would like to recommend, let us know in the comments.

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Posted on March 3, 2015, in Learning, Reading, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’ll second your recommendation of Dave Trottier’s book. It is a great investment for anyone who wants to get screenplay formatting right, especially because Dave does a great job of explaining formatting conventions and making sense of them.

    I’m a bilbiophile! I’m a big fan of reading/watching/analyzing the form you write, but I’m also a proponent of reading writing books–for people who learn well from books (which, granted, isn’t everyone).

    If you’re new not just to screenwriting but to writing in general, I recommend Natalie Greenberg’s books, especially Writing Down the Bones. They are great for putting you in touch with your creativity.

    For anyone who is writing narrative fiction, especially stories in any form for performance, I’ve got two books I love: Michael Shurtleff’s Audition, and Yves Lavandier’s Writing Drama. Mark, I’ve probably mentioned those to you before. If you haven’t read them yet, add them to your wish list for Santa because I’m pretty confident you’ll appreciate them.

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  2. I love your blog, Mark!

    Another one of Dave Trottier’s books (which I learned from you) is “Dr Format tells all”. I really like it as well.

    I heard an interesting idea from a woman in a playwriting class I’m taking: she argues that the mythological story structure advocated in “The Writer’s Journey” is male-centric. I have to say, I agreed with her at the time but now have trouble conveying her thoughts in a coherent manner. Have you heard that idea before?

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  3. Hi David, and thanks!

    It is an interesting thought, especially as the majority of books I have on structure are written by men. It’s almost as if the theory behind writing has been handed down by males, whereas, and I may be wildly off the mark with this, isn’t the female traditionally the teller or stories in many cultures?

    I’m going to have to go away and look into that as I may just be making stuff up at 2 a.m.!

    The beauty of it is that we can interpret those male-centric journey in any way we wish and, for instance, Vogler himself uses Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to illustrate many of his examples. Examining these popular interpretations of the “Hero’s Journey” from a female point of view is a useful writing exercise and a great way for new writers to explore different ways of retelling the stories they are familiar with but in new and more interesting ways.

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  4. I totally agree it is best to read many books on writing and taking whatever you may find useful in each of them.
    I also believe in reading books about other aspects of filmmaking, not just writing. Even if one has no aspirations of becoming a director or whatever, the amount of insights on storytelling you may get from great cinematographers, editors, art directors etc is priceless.

    Myself I’m obsessed with the possibilities of sound and editing, so the conversations between Michael Ondaatje and Walter Murch were a joy to read. Same about Ralph Rosenblum’s ‘when the shooting stops…’

    Shaula, Yves Lavandier is one of my very favourites. I keep close to my heart his admonition that humanity needs more (good) comedies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Angel, agreed, any book about film can be useful! That’s why I enjoyed Goldman’s books so much, they are a bit of a “cross-over” between serious text book and anecdote. And you have reminded me that I have still got to crack the spine on a recent birthday present, the 1100 odd page tome on Kubrick’s unmade Napoleon!

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  6. Yay, the Goldman books! People maybe confused when they pick them up because they’re the opposite of prescriptive literature on screenwriting, but they’re so beautifully written they’re even more valuable, because they must have inspired thousands of vocations…
    That Kubrick books sounds like fascinating reading… Please tell us about it when you finish it!

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  7. It’s enormous. I may never finish it.

    It’s that anecdotal, not-prescriptive style of the Goldman books that I hope to recreate (to an extent) on these pages Angel; fingers crossed!

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