Honestly, I have no idea what screenwriting books you should be reading. I hate the whole idea of “should.” The only thing you “should” NOT do is automatically take someone’s advice.
Rules were made to be challenged, and I firmly believe choosing advice is much like choosing a cocktail. Some drinks suit you perfectly, some make you gag, some leave you with a hangover, and some become your signature drink. So here are the screenwriting books you might want to read, and my signature drink is bourbon:
1. The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier
This book was handed to me in my first day of film school. It teaches you how to write, format and sell your script. I never read the parts on selling or writing your script, and I have no idea if that information is helpful. However, the information this book has on script formatting is priceless. The Screenwriter’s Bible is a clear reference guide that gives you the basics of script formatting with a handy index and glossary at the back. If you want to know all the formatting rules, this is your book.
Now once you learn the formatting rules, don’t take them too seriously. All rules should be learned so you can effectively use, break and bend them to tell your story.
2. Aristotle’s Poetics by Aristotle
This work was composed around 330 to 350 BCE and is still relevant today. When reading Aristotle, keep in mind that “poetry” means “to make” or “invent” in Greek. The theories proposed in this book apply to all forms of storytelling, and Aristotle will help you understand how to structure a plot and create dramatic tension. Most of your modern screenwriting books are based on his drama theories, so why not go straight to the source? And because this book is in the public domain, you can download it for free.
3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Everything you need to know about characters can be found in Joseph Campbell’s work. Tracing all the way back to the foundations of storytelling, Joseph Campbell breaks down character archetypes and shows how to tell universal stories that connect with any audience. The names, faces and formats change over the years, but all storytelling has certain things in common. Joseph Campbell is the best at explaining how it all works.
Personally, I think you’ll learn more from reading actual screenplays than screenwriting books. So take my advice for what it’s worth. I’m off to pour myself a bourbon. Cheers!