When I wrote my first screenplay, I bought screenwriting books. Seems logical, right? I wanted to write a good screenplay - so I bought a book about the craft of screenwriting, specifically Story by Robert McKee (both the paperback and iBooks edition). This was a breakthrough for me at the time - however, somewhere between the third and fifth draft of my first screenplay, I realised that this book on its own – great as it was - was not enough for my education on the subject.I then bought other screenwriting books and downloaded some apps. The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson, the Save The Cat app from Blake Snyder. All reasonable stuff, but somewhere between my second and third screenplays, I realised that screenwriting books and apps on their own would not be enough either.
This realisation was brought about by Hero Of A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. A mainly anthropological book about the archetype of the Hero, this book, frequently referenced in Hollywood, literally blew my mind. It’s about more than storytelling, it's a profound book about why we have come back again and again to the archetype of the Hero across the ages and across so many different cultures. This was really exciting and I stopped trying to learn about screenwriting for a while and went where my curiosity led me. Below are the five books that I then read that, although not specifically about screenwriting, have greatly influenced my writing.
Essentially a Freud-for-newbies, this gives you a great and very breezy overview of the theories of the father of modern psychology. Freud is a very interesting way of looking at humans, particularly the way that the ego seeks to protect itself – even against reality – that I felt I could see in many films and television series (such as Mad Men and Deerhunter). Ruth Snowden is the best at this clear breakdown of complex theories.
Jung is often referenced in screenwriting books and he did come up with the term “archetypes” (basic types of people which appear in storytelling throughout generations and cultures), this equally fascinating one-time collaborator of Freud broke away from Freud’s “mechanistic” view of the human mind and focussed more on the numinous (spiritual) aspect of human experience. It’s an interesting approach to think of a character as a soul contending with a physical reality and most films with a hero do contain a strong spiritual aspect.
Neumann was a student of Jung’s and really expanded on his archetype theory, taking a closer look at the Hero. A different approach to Campbell, he characterises the birth and journey as the battle of the Hero to be independent of the powerful Uroboros (mother to both the Terrible Mother and Nurturing Mother archetypes and often represented by a snake eating its tail). Another way of describing it is the struggle for consciousness to be differentiated from the unconscious mind, relevant when you consider that the struggle of the Hero is often the struggle of new ideas with commonly and unconsciously accepted dogma.
If you want a really breezy look at Freud’s life and ideas, this Nobrow graphic novel is for you. As well as many of the main theories, expect plenty on Freudian slips and jokes. If only there was a similar book about Jung!
This is more an essay in book form about the pressures placed on individual consciousness by mass structures, such as governments. A great way to think of the world the protagonist lives in.
Watch for free at: freedocumentaries.org
Not a book, a documentary series about the use of Freudian psychology in influencing consumers in what product to buy and voters on what party to vote for. A fascinating look at the twentieth century through the work of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and father of modern PR, who used his uncle’s theories to help corporations and governments influence public opinion. One of the best documentaries I have ever seen on any subject and very instructive about the world we live in today.
I hope you you find these sources as fascinating and relevant to your screenwriting as I find them to my own.