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Top Reads for Film, Screenplay and Musical Writers

Updated on September 6, 2012

These are my favourite recommendations for writers looking for help with films, screenplays and musicals.

500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader : Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend

by Jennifer Lerch

The first stop of a Hollywood film script is the desk of a script reader. This is the hardest place from which to move on. It can stall here, get lost here or get initially approved here. This individual tends to be a freelance editor. He or she is just one of many employed to read over and evaluate the material before passing it on to a producer, director or studio head. Only the ones that meet certain criteria get passed on. These scripts are the interesting, really good or even remarkable ones. Jennifer Lerch, the author of this book is well aware of the steps necessary to make it past the script reader. In order to help you give your script the chance it deserves, she has put together this handy and thorough guide on how to beat the potential roadblock known as the script reader. It is easy, straightforward and comprehensible to anybody who wants to become a screenwriter or work in the business. In this book, the author provides you with 500 ways to overcome potential problems. Some are obvious; some are not. All are worth your consideration. Whether you are wondering about your dialogue or if your scenes are memorable enough, this book defines what is required. It encourages you set goals and make a name for yourself before you even present your first screenplay. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, Lerch delivers so you can get a chance at making it, too.

Art Of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives

by Lajos Egri

Dramatic writing becomes both alive and clear in this guide by Lajos Egri. It was an instant classic as soon as it appeared in bookstores. If you are interested in writing a play, this is the ideal guide. The author helps you to explore the art and craft of writing plays by turning the work inside-out. He explains how human behavior is a tool in the process and not a hindrance at all. The author also closely examines the relationships between the characters you create. This is an effort to aid a writer to expand his or her ability to make them come alive. By understanding what Egri is trying to do, and applying it, you can breathe life into drama and produce living, breathing characters for the stage. This book is versatile. While it is directed at those who want to compose plays, its method and message are applicable to the writing of other genres as well, including short stories and screen plays for movies or television.

How Not to Write a Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes Most Screenwriters Make

by Denny Martin Flinn

You have a great idea. You know it would make the perfect screen play. There is only one problem. You haven’t got a clue of how to transfer it from your creative brain onto the page in a form palatable to bring to some producer. Moreover, even when you have it written down or typed out, you don’t know where to take it from there. If you find yourself in this position, pick up a copy of this book. The author, Denny Martin Flinn will lead you away from the most common and hazardous mistakes you can make. Among the list are the basics. If you fail to do your homework in this regard, your screenplay is doomed. Consider the following on the do not list:

  • Do not assume a good idea is a good screenplay. There is many a slip between the brain and the finished product
  • Do not put “continued” at the end of a page
  • Do not include a list of characters
  • Do not supply instructions to the actors
  • Do not interrupt the essential rhythm of a scene

If you do not want the screen reader to ditch your play after reading the first 10 pages, get this book and begin to approach your craft like a professional.

Melody in Songwriting : Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs (Berklee Guide)

There are some songwriters and musicians who claim you either have the ability to write a melody or you don’t. They greet with scepticism any belief that it is a skill capable of being learned. This Berklee Guide is sure to prove the naysayers wrong. A one-of-a-kind approach to songwriting, it introduces those who want to learn how to create melodies the chance to do just that. Among the topics covered are discovering what influences melody as well as how you can make melody and harmony work in concert. This book helps you to discover how to create a popular song. It accomplishes this by mining the best of songs and songwriters. Famous composers such as Lennon and MCartney are used to illustrate techniques that work.

The Berklee Guide was written as a course textbook for the Berklee College of Music. Nevertheless, the format, content and approach make it perfect for anyone to learn at home. No matter at what stage your writing is, you can easily grasp hold of the concepts and apply them successfully.

Screenplay: Writing the Picture

by Robin U. Russin, William Missouri Downs

This is not your average screenplay book. It is a full-fledged course. In fact, one intent of this book is for it to be a textbook for a course on screenwriting. Yet, its design is such, any individual, no matter what their level on the screenwriting totem pole, can apply it. The authors cover everything you need to know. From the very beginnings of your research through to plotting, theme creation and development, character growth, writing, rewriting and editing, the author takes you through all the important steps. It is comprehensive, savvy and responsible. It provides direction to writers as well as information on the most effective techniques to help them improve and advance their screenplay writing. If you want to understand the fundamentals of scriptwriting as well as learn how to approach specifics such as theme development, dialogue and characterization differently, order a copy of this book.

The Screenplay Workbook : The Writing Before the Writing

by Jeremy Robinson, Tom Mungovan

Do you have a screenplay running on permanent loop in your imagination? Does it crop up in your dreams along with your acceptance of an Oscar? Is the problem that it remains there, never emerging onto your computer screen? If this is the case, take a deep breath, take out your credit card and get this book.

Authors Jeremy Robinson and Tom Mungovan have created a workbook with you in mind. They know exactly how to get someone like you started. Straightforward, easy-to-use and follow directions and design make it simple for you to begin the process of transferring your dream into reality. Worksheets simplify the overall process as they are intended as an aid in your process of developing plot, characters and overall concepts. This is your chance to escape from your dream trap and morph it into an actual screenplay that works.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting

by Robert McKee

If you want to create a screenplay that catches the screenreader by the throat and does not let go until he or she says, “Yes!” you have to understand the mechanisms and rules of this genre. Writing a screenplay is not the same as crafting a short story. Robert McKee, who has internationally earned a positive reputation for his workshops, knows how to tackle the topic. He knows the importance of research. He also knows how to simplify the process. McKee has gathered all the necessary resources that you will need, synthesized the material, and bound it together as a book – this book. If you have already taken his workshops, you know what I mean. This book will enhance any information you have taken with you. If you cannot avail yourself of an opportunity to attend what are called “magic” and “a mesmerizing, intense learning experience” pick up this book, read it and you will at least have a taste of all he offers.

The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script

by David Trottier

This is an updated version of an earlier work. In September 2005, the author, David Trottier added an extra 70 pages to make this guide even more handy to novice screenwriters and professionals alike. This solid guide provides both an overview and a critical evaluation of certain basics as well as advanced material. Of significance is the inclusion of specific sections on the following: the basics of screenwriting, how to format for movies and television, how to market and sell your finished product and sample scenes for analytical study. You will also find a resource guide to provide you with different industry contacts. The author manages to do all this without crushing the creativity of the screenwriter. In fact, the book actually encourages the writer to develop both uniqueness and individuality.

The Screenwriter Within : How to Turn the Movie in Your Head into a Salable Screenplay

by D.B. Gilles

It is simple. You know what you have “up there” is far superior to anything you are currently seeing on either television or a movie screen. However, you have a problem. You do not have the faintest idea of how to translate it from your deepest imagination onto paper. Look no further than this book. Author D. B. Gilles has come up with the ideal book for those who want to but never have written a screenplay. This is for the rank amateurs. The book initially broaches the subject by laying the foundation – the basic concepts with solid information. What follows then is a variety of truly unique ideas to help you find the best stories and assist them in assuming a solid and highly presentable form. Gilles presents his ideas and information in a manner that makes the subject more approachable, less daunting. He reinforces his concepts with examples from his actual experiences adding a layer of reality. This approach helps you understand and accept what he has to say about the writing of screenplays.

The Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay: How to Write Great Screenplays for Movies and Television

by Cynthia Whitcomb

Putting together a screenplay is a daunting and often difficult task. It is not easy, as many have found out who have dipped their pens in this genre. The author of this book, Cynthia Whitcomb, who has written more than 75 screenplays ( a large percentage of these have actually made it onto the big screen) and is, therefore, a veteran, understands this. While she does not downplay the difficulties involved, she does not allow the reader to think it is impossible to accomplish. She encourages the reader to continue, to keep on if they truly believe they have a good concept. She wants to nurture your dreams while not giving you false hope. She is definitely determined to help you learn from her experience. She wants you to apply everything she knows from coming up with the right idea to putting it down in the right format to obtaining a contract. In doing so, she hopes you, too, will see your name up in lights.

The Writer’s Journey, Second Edition : Mythic Structure for Writers

by Christopher Vogler

The author of this book, Christopher Vogler, does not believe in leading you step-by-step through the screenwriting process. His approach is more oblique. Through his work he is determined to reveal how even the most unlikely stories can achieve a certain sensibility that will envelope the minds of even the finickiest of readers. His example, and the focus of this book is the work of a well-known author of mythical studies – Joseph Campbell. The work Vogler chooses to explore is Hero with a Thousand Faces. Under his inventive hands, the work soon becomes a template of a reader or viewer friendly style of writing. To Vogler, it is more important you leave his book with w working comprehension of how a story feels rather than know how to construct one in accordance with some formula. He wants you to gain the perception you need to write a believable story and create characters that live and breathe as surely as you do. It is his intent you learn how to craft a screenplay, but he leads you through the process in an extremely approachable and inventive way.

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