The 20 Best Books on TV Writing

20 best tv writing books
What are the best book on TV writing? We made a list. 

When it comes to breaking into TV writing, the best thing you can do is read TV screenplays and write a ton. But you might need guidance on the actual process of writing. We have articles on writing your sitcom and drama, but if you want a tangible book to hold...we have a list for that, too. 

I wanted to sit and compile a list of the best books on TV writing. 

The ones that can help guide you on your process from breaking in and getting read. 

So without further ado...

The 20 Best Books on TV Writing 

20. THE WOMAN IN THE STORY by Helen Jacey

This was inspired by female psychology and gender issues, this how-to book casts a refreshingly honest and empowering women-centric light on every stage of the screenwriting process. It's also a great read to understand points of view as well. As a man, I really think it helped me find great female characters in my work. 

The Woman in the Story by Helen Jacey

19. ARISTOTLE’S POETICS with Introduction by Francis Fergusson

A classic, this book helps you understand where all stories come from. Their origin and also the key elements we look for to connect with what happens on the screen. 

Aristotle's Poetics

18. THE BIG PICTURE: THE FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE OF MOVIES by Ben Fritz

Yeah, I know "movies" is in the title but this book does a great job describing the difference between movie and TV ideas. It also talks about how the industry has changed and what kinds of stories are emphasized in each medium. It's good to have as you beat out ideas. 

The Big Picture by Ben Fritz

17. THE HERO SUCCEEDS: THE CHARACTER-DRIVEN GUIDE TO WRITING YOUR TV PILOT by Kam Miller

Plot is one of those words that gets a bad wrap. People think plot can be formulaic, but if you learn to master it, you can use plot to bend the audience to your will. You can make them feel anything and persuade them to believe anything. That' the core of TV. 

The Hero Succeeds by Kam Miller

16. JAWS IN SPACE: POWERFUL PITCHING FOR FILM AND TV SCREENWRITERS by Charles Harris

The most important skill in all of Hollywood has become pitching. You need to talk about ideas in the room and get people to buy in. You also need to talk to execs to prove why people will tune into your stories. Learn how to pitch and the world will open up to you.  

Jaws in Space by Charles Harris

15. THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

One of the things you forget about writing is that you have to come up with words to describe people. I have trouble not sounding repetitive, so I grabbed these amazing thesauruses for writers to help me build out how I want characters to sound and act. 

Emotion Thesaurus Positive Trait Thesaurus Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

14. PSYCHOLOGY FOR SCREENWRITERS by William Indick

There are times when I find it hard to understand a character's motivations. Knowing basic psychology can help you reason out the choices these people make as well as build backstory and future plots based on the pitfalls they experience. 

Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick

13. RESPECT FOR ACTING by Uta Hagen

So much of writing is imagining, but at some point, you'll see your words acted out practically. How can you prepare the dialogue so that actors not only want to say it but also want to embody the characters that think of it? 

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen

12. WRITING THE PILOT by William Rabkin

No matter what happens with your idea, at some point you're going to have to write the pilot. That means you need to know what execs are looking for when they read the story. 

Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin

11. THE THIRTY-SIX DRAMATIC SITUATIONS by Georges Polti

Got stuck in a scene or can't seem to move the story forward? TV is about ongoing problems. If you need episode ideas, just consult the major dramatic situations. This book can help you brainstorm and create the conflict that keeps stories going. 

The 36 Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti

10. IMPRO by Keith Johnstone

Yes, and? The idea of improv and building a story via improvisation is a particular skill all TV writers need to understand. When you're working around a table and throwing ideas out, you want to build, not shoot people down. Learn how to add with grace. 

Impro by Keith Johnstone

9. THE IDEA by Erik Bork

Got an idea? Let the guy who wrote Band of Brothers help take you through how to build it outward, You don't just need a logline, but also a way to make the story come alive and stretch into many episodes. 

The Idea by Erik Bork

8. WRITING THE TV DRAMA by Pamela Douglas

This one is pretty straightforward. If your passion is writing a 60-minute pilot, you should know the ins and outs of getting that accomplished.  

Writing the TV Drama Series by Pamela Douglas

7. STORYLINE: FINDING GOLD IN YOUR LIFE STORY by Jen Grisanti

As the adage goes, "Write what you know," but how do you know what you know? Grisanti helps you mine for those details and access the interesting parts. 

Storyline by Jen Grisanti

6. THE WEST WING SCRIPT BOOK by Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin was already famous when The West Wing came out, but this certified him as one of the best working writers in history. This book has 8 TV scripts you can study to see the beats, dialogue, and professional way he conveys action. 

They shot some of these scripts word for word, too.

The West Wing Scriptbook by Aaron Sorkin

5. STORY STRUCTURE by Robert McKee

You can't write TV if you don't have a good handle on the structure of a story. McKee is a self-appointed expert, but I find his musing here to really be helpful when it comes to crafting an idea. 

Story by Robert McKee

4. DAVID MAMET'S MEMO TO WRITERS

When Mamet was showrunning The Unit, he sent a famous memo to his writer's room. It's too long to copy here, but it really opens your eyes to the business, the decisions we make, and the difficulties of being a TV writer. 

David Mamet's Memo to Writers

3. ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

While Goldman worked in features, this is the best book about a writer working in Hollywood. Many of his experiences are relatable and beneficial. 

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman

2. THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD by Miranda Banks

If you want to be a TV writer then you're going to want to be in the WGA. The guild is responsible for you getting fair pay, healthcare, and watching your back. You should know all you can about them and how to use their services to your advantage. 

The Writers - A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild by Miranda J. Banks

1. ON WRITING by Stephen King

Ahhh, this is one book on writing I think everyone should read. It doesn't matter the medium, King reflects on what it takes to get ideas on the page and enlightens us on the very idea of coming up with your own process. 

On Writing by Stephen King

Up Next: Learn to Write a TV Show Bible 

Writing a TV show bible is the first step in seeing your idea go from paper to the screen. It's also the document that will ensure executives and future staffed writers know what's going on. But how do you make one? 

Follow our lead...     

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2 Comments

It's 2020. The Craft of Scene Writing should be on this list.

August 12, 2020 at 7:36PM

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This is a very solid list. Pamela Douglas's book really helped me with writing my first TV pilot, and Stephen King's book is the best book about writing and the life of writing, period. I think David Mamet's Memo to the Unit Writing Staff is only four pages or so in length (written in ALL CAPS!!!), but it really distills the principles of *scene writing* down to highly memorable core ideas that stay with me. I'd also like to suggest Karl Iglesias's The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters. Thank you for the great list!

August 13, 2020 at 6:17AM

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Cedrick May
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