It's been a few years since my 2011 post about the best screenwriting books (and my 2012 update), so I thought I would write a post about three new books that have hit the market. My philosophy about screenwriting books is that you should read whatever interests you and take away any advice you find helpful, remembering that there is no shortcut to a great script, and no absolute rule you must follow. Screenwriting books cannot replace professional scripts (read some!), and at some point, you need to just start writing -- but books can help you learn how to analyze movies and professional scripts, and guide you through writing your first few screenplays.
Screenwriting Behind Enemy Lines: Lessons From Inside the Studio Gates by John Schimmel
I was really impressed with John Schimmel's book. First off, he has a lot more experience than many other screenwriting book authors, and provides a unique perspective since he worked as a development and production exec for Warner Brothers, Paramount Studios and Ascendant Pictures. Beyond that, he has written a practical guide with thoughtful analysis of concept, structure, character, dialogue and plot. It doesn't get philosophically lofty, but doesn't gloss over difficult concepts, either. I also liked the way he stressed that writers must acknowledge that they're trying to sell to a difficult marketplace, but shouldn't shy away from trying to SAY something (their "Truth," as he calls it). He discusses the importance of concept, and doesn't discuss craft in a vacuum - after all, you're trying to sell something. He also offers a lot of specific breakdowns of films (everything from The Fugitive to Transformers) and anecdotes from other professionals. It's a good book for beginners, though I don't think it's too basic for people who have written a couple scripts.
150 Screenwriting Challenges by Eric Heisserer
this unique book of screenwriting exercises by pro writer Eric Heisserer (Hours, The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street). He offers challenges in dialogue, character, scene, writer's block and more. Flip to a random page to do a free-write, or use the challenges to improve a specific skill or a weak part of your script. These challenges can be a jumping off point for a brand new idea or a way to reinvigorate a script that's been through development hell. They're simple and varied, without a bunch of flowery language you don't need. It's only a couple bucks and definitely worth it!
Screenwriting 101! by Film Crit Hulk
Film Crit Hulk, who has written for Badass Digest, The New Yorker and EW. If you follow him on Twitter, you probably already have a sense of his style: passionate, reflective, analytical and yes, a bit long-winded. In the book, he covers everything from "The Modern Difficulty of Relativism" to how to format a slugline, so there's, um, kind of a LOT -- but he's offered a specific table of contents that helps direct you to what you most want and need. (Sections within chapters are also fairly short and concise.) The book also features plenty of discussion of specific titles, and will offer lots of ideas and directions for your ongoing study of film. If you want to dive into a book that mixes screenplay basics with a deeper discussion of WHAT IT ALL MEANS, definitely check this one out.