Years ago, when I was starting to write screenplays, I was recommended The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is a great book. Yes, I would recommend it… but perhaps not as a starting point. I struggled with it as a beginner – barely understanding. Reading it again, years later, was far more beneficial.

So, knowing what I know now, what books would I recommend to my newbie self? Probably these three…

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Okay, so Save the Cat has its fair share of detractors. The biggest complaint seems to be that it is simplistic and formulaic. However, I feel that this is its strength. It reinforces the need for strong basic structure. Something I feel every screenwriter should instinctively know. Do you have to follow it strictly? No. Should you be aware when you deviate from the basics, and be able to justify why? Yes.

If a screenplay feels weak, my first step is to go back to structure. And, while I have other structures outlined from different sources that I might use, Snyder’s is often the simplest and easiest to apply. Following Snyder will enable a writer to write a good solid script. True, it may not be a mind-blowing, world-changing script. But it’ll be a healthy starting point. Get a screenplay’s basic structure in hand first, master it, and then go forth.

Getting it Write – Lee Jessup

Ever read a book and wondered, how did I not know this existed before now? Well, that was me when I discovered Getting It Write.

This book is not about the craft of screenwriting, but rather an insight into the world of screenwriting. Jessup tells it like it is, straightforward and sometimes pretty blunt. She’s not one to pander to artistic dreams if they’re just not realistically going to happen.

I think every emerging screenwriter should read this book. It lays out so much knowledge that might take years for a writer to figure out otherwise. I could almost write a book myself on the things I learnt from Getting It Write.

Example: A big nugget of wisdom for me was the realisation that the spec script I’m sending out is not likely to ever get made. Instead, it serves as a demonstration of my skill and understanding of the craft. It shows my voice, style, humour, choice of premises, etc. that connects me to others in the industry who appreciate what I’m offering. From here, the spec script has served its purpose and, hopefully, new projects will bloom. Understanding this shifted how I viewed (and reworked) the scripts I’m sending out for consideration.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic is my bible. Seriously. I could almost recite it word for word. I have no idea how often I’ve read it because, as soon as I finish, I turn back to the start and begin again.

Big Magic is not specifically about writing, or the creative industries. It is about living as a creative person. It’s full of insight, hope, and motivation. It picks me up when I feel low about my writing and keeps me level when I get the adrenaline shakes of success. I’m sure I would have given up on writing years ago without the support of this book. Big Magic may not be for everyone, but everyone should at least check it out because there’s a good chance it might change your life. It definitely changed mine.

I actually bought Big Magic on a whim from an airport bookshop – something to pass the time on a long flight. And it has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I wish I could buy everyone a copy.

And, from here, there are many, many other great books I would recommend. But, if I were starting over, yeah, these three are where I’d begin.

Note: I freely give these recommendations without any expectation of reward. I have linked to authors websites, but checkout your favourite book suppliers for stock or, heaven forbid, you try a library.