Writing my first book, Social Media And The Seven Deadly Sins, was a learning curve. To then start the development of a screenplay was even more so.
Advertising copywriting over the years has taught me a thing or two about the craft. Yet I found a lot more inspiration and guidance from other sources. Let me share those with you. If you are thinking of starting as a writer, then these books and courses are highly recommended.
Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
We will start with something that’s not a book, but there are many recommendations for reading within this masterclass. If you love good movies and great television drama, it’s worth watching this masterclass even if you are not intending to embark on a career in writing, listening to Aaron Sorkin is just a wonderful experience in itself. Aaron shares so much wisdom and insights into his writing methods and the process behind great works such as West Wing, The Social Network and A Few Good Men. Join the Masterclass.
A book Sorkin will reference throughout his masterclass on every occasion he can is Aristotle’s Poetics. Sorkin will refer to this as a ‘pamphlet’ and the blueprint for all drama. The bible for screenwriters. Poetics is a fundamental piece of work, and its timeless insights have inspired and directed countless works of literature, poetry, plays and screenplays.
There are many versions of this book in print. The two editions I found most helpful were Oxford World’s Classics, translated by Anthony Kenny and Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets from the Greatest Mind in Western Civilization, written by Michael Tierno. Tierno breaks down the fundamentals of screenwriting, highlighting particular aspects of Aristotle’s work. Then, using examples from some of the best movies ever made, he demonstrates how to apply these ancient insights to modern-day screenwriting.
Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them
British Television has often led the way in terms of Drama. Stemming from the early days of BBC Radio Plays to the very first TV dramas, which were nothing more than fixed perspective wide shots of the theatre plays, Brits know how to make serials than can span decades and keep audiences glued to the screen. John Yorke worked as both Head of Channel Four Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production. As a commissioning Editor/Executive Producer, he championed Life On Mars, The Street, Shameless, Father Brown, Waterloo Road, Our Girl and Bodies, as well as winning a BAFTA as Exec Producer of EastEnders in 2002.
In 2005 John created the BBC Writers Academy, a year-long in-depth training scheme which has produced a generation of successful television writers. Into The Woods is Johns best selling book, which skilfully lays out the fundamentals and mechanics of screenwriting and gets deep into the psyche of storytelling and what makes it work. The book is very insightful and takes you through some of the most memorable and greatest hits in TV drama and film, explaining how and why they work so well.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
My wife is a massive Stephen King fan. She has read everything he has written at least twice! While I had dabbled some King in my teenage years, I had gone for two decades without reading anything from his vast collection of titles. While I was writing my book, at the early stages, when I found it challenging to gain momentum, my wife suggested I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It was the best advice I could ever have been given. This book changed everything for me. It not only gave me the confidence to write, but it also inspired me to write more than I had ever intended to.
King’s work ethic and approach to writing helped me overcome the anxiety and fear of writer’s block that it seems all writers face. King opened the flood gates of word smithery inside me. After reading his book, I have never looked back when it comes to the challenge of writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, advertising copy and other creative writing projects such as poetry and song lyrics.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
Acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters” (CNN), Syd Field (1935-2013) is still regarded by many Hollywood professionals to be the leading authority in the art and craft of screenwriting. The Hollywood Reporter called him “the most sought-after screenwriting teacher in the world”. In Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. This work is an essential guide to all new and established screenwriters, and I found Syd’s style of explaining and describing the techniques and methods used in creating great screenplays to be invaluable.
With this bundle of books in your toolbox, you will be primed with the knowledge you need to succeed in improving writing skills and creating drama and screenplays that can last the test of time. There are many others, and unlike Pokemon, I cannot catch (or read) them all. In my opinion, the books listed above are the only ones you will need.