With the improvements to video technology and editing software in the past ten years, practically anyone can produce a video and call themselves a filmmaker. In a market that’s inundated with visual media thanks to YouTube, Vimeo, and now Vine, what makes your film stand out from the pack? The story.
In order to craft a good screenplay, you need to master certain elements of basic visual storytelling. Character arc, story arc, and proper formatting are key to not only producing a screenplay, but also actually selling it in the marketplace. But with more than 3,000 titles offering screenplay-writing advice on Amazon alone, where do you start? We asked instructors from Full Sail’s Creative Writing for Entertainment Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program and Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts degree program for their advice and narrowed down their top five recommendations for must-reads before diving into the world of screenwriting.
Why reading first? You must read well to write well!
For the Beginner
If you are just starting out with script writing, start with a foundational book to introduce you to the formatting and the structure of screenplay writing. Jennie Jarvis, Course Director for Script Analysis and Criticism, suggests The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field. Cited as the book that helped Jarvis writer her very first screenplay, she recommends not only reading the text but completing the writing exercises offered at the end of every chapter. “If you follow all the assignments in the book,” Jarvis offers, “then you will have a completed screenplay by the time you are done. I’m not saying that it will be any good, but you’ll have one!”
For the Researcher
Carol Chiodini’s recommendation is not a book at all,
it’s actually an online magazine. Chiodini teaches Scriptwriting Techniques and recommends Script Magazine to all of her students. Originally a monthly publication, Script Magazine is now offered online, putting a plethora of amazing information at your fingertips. Chiodini mentioned that it is produced by Final Draft, the primary software utilized by scriptwriters internationally and boasts that the website features, “all the current stories about the scripts of the most recent films, how they were written, etc.” Understanding how the scripts were created from the writers themselves provides invaluable insight to the aspiring screenwriter, so definitely bookmark this website for future use.
For Mastering the Format
In many cases, learning and understanding the formatting and rules of a screenplay are the hardest to master. Charles Barrett, the Course Director for the Film Workshopping class, puts his backing on two books: The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and How Not to Write a Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes Most Screenwriters Make by Denny Martin Flinn.
In both texts, Flinn and Trottier provide comprehensive examples on proper screenplay formatting and step-by-step rules for how to ensure your script is laid out according to the industry standards. As most of our Film and Scriptwriting instructors would point out, the quickest way to ensure your script is NOT read is to not follow formatting rules.
For Improving Your Story
When it comes to story development as a whole, almost all of the instructors suggested The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, as a must read. The breakdown and understanding of a Hero’s Journey is the crucial element for good storytelling, regardless of format or genre. If you’re not familiar with the term “Hero’s Journey,” you can read up a bit more about it here.
Some Other Suggested Reads
A few other books highly recommended by our screenwriting faculty would include, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (overcoming resistance), Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (reassurance and support), Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (helpful formula approach to plot points), Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge (screenplay structure and easy-to-understand techniques), and Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger (for character arc and development.) While there are thousands of books available for the aspiring screenwriter, nothing beats the real thing: produced scripts. Both Chiodini and Barrett stress the importance of getting your hands on as many scripts as possible and immersing yourself in their story, their structure, and their formatting. Not only will you learn – you’ll also be entertained.
So, what are you waiting for? Start reading and start writing!