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Best Screenwriting Courses and Books to Get You Started

by Alex Edge on December 3, 2021

There are many screenwriting courses and books on the market. Some are better avoided, some are considered absolutely essential, while others receive very mixed reviews.

If you're just starting out and aren't sure where to look, we've compiled list of screenwriting courses and books that we consider industry staples -- ones that are worth your time if you’re a beginner or just aiming to perfect your craft!

Online Courses

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting (MasterClass)

This is an 8-hour and 1-minute screenwriting course (precise I know) across 35 video lessons by the legendary Aaron Sorkin. His works include A Few Good Men, The West Wing, and The Social Network, to name a few. This screenwriting course is online provided by MasterClass and with the pre-recorded videos with an average viewing time of 13 minutes long, you can learn at leisure. Sorkin delivers his extensive knowledge through easy-to-follow and concise points and there are no daunting lengthy statements. The lessons are a practical approach to apply to your own screenplays and cover a multitude of aspects of screenwriting.

Aaron Sorkin masterclass

The course covers:

  • Intention & Obstacle
  • Story Ideas
  • Characters
  • Research
  • The Audience
  • Rules of the Story
  • Writing Scenes

Price: $180/yr. for all-access subscription

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television (MasterClass)

Shonda Rhimes is a talented TV and film screenwriter, with credits including Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Crossroads. This course is a total of 30 lessons over 6 hours and 5 minutes. Another course brought to you by MasterClass and similarly to the Aaron Sorkin one, is accessible from the website. This course can be taken at your leisure!

Shonda speaks about her own career journey and even touches on careers in TV production, as well as covering ways to get your foot in the door. In the course, Rhimes covers a variety of topics such as how to successfully pitch your TV show.

Shonda Rhimes masterclass

The course covers:

  • Developing Concepts
  • Research
  • Creating Memorable Characters
  • Pitching a Show
  • Story Structure
  • Effective Writing Habits
  • Writing Authentic Dialogue
  • Breaking into the Industry

Price: $180/yr. for all-access subscription

Jed Mercurio - Writing Drama For Television (BBC Maestro)

Jed Mercurio is a British screenwriter who has written popular TV series in the United Kingdom for the BBC which includes Line of Duty and The Bodyguard. Jed came from a very humble background with no industry connections, so in this BBC course, he shares how to try and make those connections for those of us who don’t know where to start! The online course is 28 lessons and 7 hours of viewing time, aimed towards all ability levels.

Jed Mercurio bbc maestro

The course covers:

  • Inspiration
  • Developing Ideas
  • The Setting
  • Relationships Between Characters and the Setting
  • Starting a Pilot
  • The Content of a Pilot
  • Story Architecture
  • Inciting Incidents

Price: £80.00 (about $106)

Looking for more screenwriting education? Check out our e-Courses!

Books

Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Now I am sure you’ve heard of this one, Save The Cat is a very well-known screenwriting book that draws a lot of divided opinions. This book is named from the hero theory whereby if a character does something heroic early in the film (like saving a cat), the audience will be rooting for them from the offset.

In summary, this book is about the three components that make a good story: plot, structure, and character transformation. Even people that don’t rate the book itself, seem to love and swear by the Save the Cat “Beat Sheet” and Snyder communicates that this is the 15 beats or story points every good script should have.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Robert McKee is a renowned author, lecturer, and story consultant. This book is filled with useful techniques on how to nail your story and it expands more basic principles such as the 3–act structure in more detail. This is well worth a read for any beginner screenwriter, but can also be read by people that would like to learn more advanced screenwriting topics and techniques too.

If you are looking for something full of checklists and step-by-step guides, this may not be the one for you! Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting is about why you want to tell a story and how you tell a story, about the craft and talent.

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Syd Field, the famous author and speaker, has one of the most well-known books in the screenwriting game, if you haven’t heard of this one you must be living under a rock!

This writers’ gem teaches storytelling in a conceptual sense and provides an in-depth analysis of the 3-act structure, going from plot points to page numbers. This book has been compared to a textbook but is another great starting point for beginners and helps those who struggle with plotting and structure. It also dives deep into the more advanced theories sharing the fundamentals of screenwriting.

Conclusion

Everyone has their own way of learning and their own opinions about books and courses, but luckily there are lots of screenwriting resources out there so that you can find the perfect way to improve your screenwriting. Give some of these a go and find out what works best for you.

 


Alex EdgeAlex Edge has worked for companies such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. His roles and specialties in these companies lie in production and script consultancy. He currently works at Screenwriters Network as a director. Reading and writing scripts whenever he can!

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