There are a million screenwriting books out there and most of them are terrible. What I’m going to do is review the books that I’ve read and found to be helpful.
My buddy Mike (who incidentally is now a highly paid TV writer) recommended Save The Cat when I first got into screenwriting. It’s one of those books that you’ll love, then hate, and then grudgingly respect as time goes on.
The author, Blake Snyder (RIP) was one of those “stealth” writers that sold a TON of scripts, but didn’t have that many produced. In fact, his only two IMDB writing credits are Blank Check and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
So it’s not like he was an Oscar-winning writer, but he was in the game and he is infinitely more credible than some bullshit “career coach” or film professor that’s never worked in the industry.
The best thing about the book is the “bird’s eye” view of films. After reading Save The Cat, you’ll be able to spot the structure of a movie while you’re watching it.
Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is a really helpful tool, especially when you’re outlining your screenplay and making sure you have a full story.
Snyder even makes his own genre classifications, like “Monster In The House” (movies like Jaws, Alien, etc) and “Dude With A Problem” (Die Hard, Three Days Of The Condor, etc). It’s pretty fun to watch those movies and see how many movies have the same basic underlying structure.
Also, his notecard method of outlining is great.
Snyder goes a little far with his classifications, trying to make it seem like his book applies to EVERYTHING. The problem with writing from a formula is…you get a script that’s formulaic. At a certain point, you have to put your own unique spin on things.
Also, some of his “killer scripts” sound super corny. An example—A family of four gets superpowers after a nuclear accident. And the movie is called…Nuclear Family. Good Lord.
Overall, it’s a decent book and a good intro to screenwriting. And once you’re done with your script, you can use a lot of the tools to tweak and improve your final product.