Below I’ve provided the best resources I’ve found for learning screenwriting. Most of them are free, and the rest are inexpensive.
The screenplays for produced movies are easy enough to find on Go Into The Story or through Google searches. For scripts from the annual Black List or other unproduced scripts, I recommend asking the folks in the comments section of Scriptshadow.
Scriptnotes Podcast. This podcast by two A-list screenwriters covers every aspect of screenwriting craft and many of the practical and business issues of being a working screenwriter. And what is especially revealing is how dimly these two writers view most of the supposed screenwriting gurus and screenwriting books out there.
One challenge with this podcast is that various craft topics are scattered across various episodes; for that reason, you may want to check out this listeners’ guide to focus first on those topics you are most interested in. I have listened to nearly every episode, and it took me about two years to go through all of the back episodes. I bought the old episodes on a flash drive that they sell, but you can also sign up for a premium account for $1.99 a month to get access to all old episodes. The most recent episodes of the podcast are free.
The Write Your Screenplay Podcast. This free podcast by Jacob Krueger, whose Write Your Screenplay class is one of the classes I recommend, is a great free resource. Jacob covers every aspect of craft and process by looking at recently released movies and television shows. He also sometimes has special guests, including prominent actors and screenwriter. All episodes, including old ones, are free.
Story Structure Explanation/Best Approach to Story Design
If you want to understand story structure and design at a 30,000-foot level, the below is the best tool I’ve found. It’s not a formula or a list of nonsense story beats that all stories “must” have. And this story design approach comes from a working A-list screenwriter.
Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. This short book is a quick read and the best in-depth treatment of theme that I’ve found. Your script’s theme governs and guides every other decision in it: what your characters are like, what the story is about, and how the characters develop over the course of the script. His discussion of the concept of clone characters alone is worth the read. Once you read about clone characters, you will see that this technique is used all the time, going all the way back to one of the first clone characters: Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol.
Scriptshadow Secrets by Carson Reeves. This book is cheap, short, and helpful, but please see my thoughts on Carson’s website below and bear in mind that I’m not endorsing his story structure system.
Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit. Although this book focuses on writing in a particular genre, a lot of the screenwriting craft discussion is applicable to any genre. If you’re looking for a book on screenwriting nuts and bolts, including scene description and dialogue, I would read this one. And, of course, if you do want to write romantic comedies, this is a great book.
Go Into The Story. This website is great for learning craft issues and for interviews with working screenwriters, which reveal just how different each writer’s approach is. Although Scott Myers, who runs the site, presents a take on story structure, my general skepticism toward story structure systems still applies. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find his approach to be helpful. And he covers many other topics other than structure, such as how to introduce characters and develop your voice.
Scriptshadow. This is a good site for reading about scripts for movies that haven’t yet been produced as well as analysis of released movies. Carson Reeves, the pen name of the individual who runs the site, has some detractors, and I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints or opinions, particularly his advice that aspiring writers chase market trends and write commercial scripts. The Scriptnotes hosts and guests, including agents, have made a compelling case that it’s easier to get representation by writing something personal that isn’t especially commercial. My general skepticism toward story structure systems also applies to Carson’s system of focusing on a goal, stakes, and urgency.
Carson doesn’t seem to be a fan of Scriptnotes, and Scriptnotes has regularly criticized Scriptshadow, so it’s perhaps strange that I like both resources. However, the site is great for the community it creates, and you can find most scripts if you ask for them in the comments section.
Stage32.com. This site is great for networking, but networking is a secondary consideration to first being good as a writer. All of your efforts should first focus on being good. Once you’re good, everything else is possible, and this site will make it easy to network with people in L.A. at that stage. That being said, Stage 32 also has some great webinars. See the classes section below for more information.
Write Your Screenplay. Jacob is a great teacher and will help you focus less on outlining and stressing over structure and more on actually writing. He has simple principles that are easy to immediately apply to your work. He is an award-winning screenwriter and a great, enthusiastic teacher. What I especially like about this class is that it’s not all about structure, and he recognizes that other things are far more important.
Corey Mandell’s Screenwriting Workshops. These classes are great for learning how to write compelling scenes and sequences. You get the chance to workshop your actual scenes each week with the instructors and other students via live video. I talk about Corey’s approach to plot in this post as well. There are some things I might quibble with in the way the instructors present the content and how they are sometimes dogmatic about their views, but I would still recommend the classes. As with any resource, you have to take from it what works for you and discard the ideas that you don’t think are correct.
Stage 32 Webinars. Stage 32 has some great, inexpensive webinars on targeted topics. I’ve taken a few and found them useful. I generally only pay for those webinars that are by working writers and that focus on craft issues. But that is my particular bias.
I use WriterDuet, which is free (although I use the Pro version, which isn’t but is still relatively inexpensive, especially with the promo code you can get through the Write Your Screenplay class). I used the free version for about a year, however, and it is excellent. I upgraded to Pro because I wanted the ability to create different draft branches and to search old versions of the script for lines I deleted. I also like that WriterDuet is a cloud-based program so you can work on your script regardless of what computer you’re on. (Please note that if you click on the link below and upgrade to one of the premium accounts or its plugins, I may receive a small commission.)