Beginning screenwriters often wonder, “What’s the best screenwriting book I should get?” The answer is different for everyone and here’s the reason why.
A friend of mine once told me that the way he became an expert was by reading at least five books on any subject that he wanted to master. Not only did he read at least five books on the same topic, but he also read each book with the intention that he would be able to teach others what information that book contained.
If you read just five books on any subject, you’ll know more than 90 percent of the public on that topic. If you want to be a screenwriter, you need to read at least five different screenwriting books.
The first question is which books to start with first? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer because we all have our strengths and weaknesses and every book has its own strengths and weaknesses. The perfect book for you might not be the perfect book for me because I may need to work on story structure while you may need to work on dialogue or script formatting.
Read one screenwriting book and you may find it useless, but read it several months later and you may suddenly find useful chunks of information that you overlooked the first time. The reason is that what you needed initially may have been beyond the scope of the book, but later as you gained more experience, your skill level has increased to the point where you can now understand and learn from a book that you initially thought was useless.
Often times if you re-read the same book, you’ll come away with new insights and information simply because your own knowledge level has improved. Initially you may be concerned about the basics of script formatting and story structure. Later you may be more concerned about character growth. There is no simple way to approach screenwriting because we all approach it from different backgrounds and skill levels that constantly changes.
You can never get enough from screenwriting books, even the bad ones that simply repeat what the other ones have already said. Such bad screenwriting books can simply emphasize what you already know and confirm your own thoughts on how screenwriting works.
In some cases, you may even find different books contradicting each other. That’s when you can really start thinking about why this occurs rather than guess who may be right. Nobody knows what’s right until you do it and it flops or succeeds in an actual screenplay.
For myself, the latest screenwriting book that I’m reading is “The Coffee Break Screenwriter”, which has offered one unique nugget of information right away. If you’re ever stuck with a character who seems flat or dull, this book suggests changing the character somehow such as making the character female (if it was male) or vice versa. Change the character’s goals, age, goals, or beliefs and you change your story.
Such experimenting can help break through your own boredom with your character and help you see the same situation in a different way.
In the original “Alien,” Ripley was supposed to be a man, but just by changing it into a woman, Ripley became a much more dynamic character. A man facing a monster alone may seem frightening, but a solitary woman facing a monster alone is even more terrifying.
Changing a character’s sex is just one trick you can use, but you might never have thought of this if you had never read different screenwriting books.
Just remember that there’s a big difference between reading screenwriting books and actually writing your own screenplay. You need to set aside time to do both.