- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, by Christopher Vogler. – An absolute must-read book for writers of any genre.
- Screenplay by Syd Field. Some people say his work is outdated. I say no because everyone else in Hollywood has built their models upon his. He was the first to articulate story structure into a visual, readable format. In fact, because of Syd’s structure, I was able to overlay Vogler’s structure on Syd’s structure quite easily.
- Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge. – If ever you get a chance to attend a Michael Hauge workshop near you, do so!! I’ve attended four now, two of them full weekend workshops, and I learned from this Hollywood professional every time. His credentials are fantastic, and he’s a wonderful sharing individual.
- Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier. – I purchased the first issue when it came up. It’s been updated many times since. You’ll want the most current version because Hollywood does change format from time to time.
- The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats. Part I: The Screenplay by Cole/Haag. This first part is for the big screen. This second volume is for the small screen, television. The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats. Part II: Taped Format for Television.
- Making a Good Script Great by Linda Segar. – Linda is an expert script consultant and offers great advice.
- Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond G. Grensham – This book repeats what so many others teach in their books, but it does it in a visual way. My copy is riddled with Post-Its, which is always a sign that the book is a keeper. This book actually taught me how to create spreadsheets of my characters, counter-characters, and various elements of plots.
- Gaffers, Grips, and Best Boys by Eric Taub – If you truly want to learn about the business of film-making, this is the book to have on your shelf. You’ll learn who all those people are behind the camera and those who are involved in obtaining a script and getting it produced. Even though a movie begins with a script, there are many people involved in the various steps toward production.
- How to Adapt Anything into a Screenplay by Richard Krevolin – There aren’t many books about adaptions and this one is one of the two best that I’ve found so far.
- The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Flim: How to Transform Novels, Plays, and True-Life Stories into Screenplays by Linda Seger – This book is the second of the two best books on adaptations, and all of Linda’s books are great…an added bonus.
For Fiction Writing – Novels, novellas, and short stories:
- Any book by Donald Maass. My first introduction to Donald was with his The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success. That’s the book that told me that becoming a writer isn’t about one book; instead, it’s about writing ten books before a writer gets noticed. Sue Graton’s ABC mysteries is a case in point. He’s gone on to write more how-to books and each one is current, relevant, and important. I haven’t finished reading them all…yet. They’re in my to-be-read pile.
- How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat – She refers to the four-act model that Syd Field introduced (really three acts but with the second act broken into two parts). This book actually builds on Syd’s, in my opinion.
- Writing for Story by Jon Franklin – This book taught me how to write a three-word summary of any story. From those three words, I then could write a one-sentence summary or logline easily.
- Verbalize by Damon Suede – “Bring stories to life & life to stories” is the byline and he tells you exactly how to do it.
For Creating Characters:
- The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi – This book has become my all-time favorite go-to book when creating characters. Why? Because all of us, including our characters, have secrets that are born from a wound so deep that it drives our actions and thoughts. Many stories lack this character wound, thus the characters become one-dimensional.
- Archetypes: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Inner-Net by Caroline Myss – This book demonstrates ten different archetypes.
- The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LeFever, Sue Viders – This book has a few more archetypes than the previous book, but this book also provides examples of the archetype from the hero and the heroine, providing movie or book character examples.
For Creative Non-Fiction:
- Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard – I taught creative nonfiction classes at Western Michigan University, two summers in a row, and this was the textbook I used. An anthology, it provided students the opportunity to different writers in different genres and styles of writing non-fiction. If you’re not sure what type of nonfiction writing you want to do, this book can help you discover your passion.
- Best American Essays – Every year this book is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and each year the book has a different big-name writer as its editor. If you really want to learn how to write great creative non-fiction, these are the books to read. They teach by example. Two outstanding essays for me:
- “A Sudden Illness” by Laura Hillenbrand, 2004 issue – an essay where she reveals how she wrote Seabiscuit despite her debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome, where she wrote just a few sentences every day.
- Joyous Volandoras” by Brian Doyle, 2005 issue – an essay about hummingbirds.
- The Elements of Playwriting: How to write Stageworthy Plays, Develop Your Theatre Sense, Create Theatrical Characters, Shape Plot and Dialogue, and Find the Resources to Get Your Play Produced, by Louis E. Catron – This book is a true nuts-and-bolts type of book, especially for the beginning playwright.
- The Best American Short Plays – This book is produced every year, coming out in September along with all the other Best American books: Best American Short Stories, Best America Mysteries, Best American Essays, Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and more. A great book to see what’s current in playwriting and how published plays are formatted for this publisher.
About the Business of Writing:
- The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Freidman – As I wrote in my review of this book, if I was teaching creative writing again, this would be a required textbook. If you think being a writer is just about writing the book, think again. Any writer should thoroughly know the business before trying to sell or self-publish their book. To not know the business means you could be taken advantage of.
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen. – One of the best books on how to write a book proposal. This book has been updated since its first release.
- Negotiating a Book Contract by Mark L. Levine – written by an attorney, this a “guide for authors, agents, and lawyers” regarding contracts, rights, copyrights, revisions, options, sales, clauses, and so forth. A small book, but an important one.
- Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 1000 Weapons for Selling Your Work by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman & Michael Larsen – I don’t keep many marketing books on my shelf, but this book is one of them. So many ideas, so little time.
- Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing & Publicity by Rob Eagar – This book has become a favorite go-to book, particularly regarding online marketing.
For Academic Writing:
- Writing for Publication: Road to Academic Advancement by Kenneth T. Henson – A great book from finding topics, organizing and deadlines, avoiding errors, communicating with editors, and more. An easy to read and easy to understand text. While for academics, it’s not written in that typical dense academic style.
- How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silvia, PhD – Academics read a lot and they are expected to write a lot. The problem though is that not all academics are writers. Even if they are writers, not all writers can write fast. This book helps all of these types of writers.