How to Build a Great Screenplay A Master Class in Storytelling for Film

David Howard

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

464 Pages



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Acclaimed USC screenwriting teacher David Howard has guided hundreds of students to careers in writing for film and television. Drawing on decades of practical experience and savvy, in How to Build a Great Screenplay Howard deconstructs the craft of screenwriting and carefully reveals how to build a good story from the ground up. He eschews the "system" offered by other books, emphasizing that a great screenplay requires dozens of unique decisions by the author.

Howard also offers in-depth considerations of characterization; story arc; plotting and subplotting; dealing with coincidence in story plotting; classical vs. revolutionary screenplay structure; tone, style, and atmosphere; the use of time on screen; the creation of drama and tension; and crucial moments in storytelling.

Throughout this readable and immediately accessible guide, Howard clarifies his lessons through examples from some of the most successful Hollywood and international script-oriented films, including Pulp Fiction, American Beauty, Trainspotting, North by Northwest, Chinatown, and others. The end result is an indispensable text—a bible for the burgeoning screenwriter.


Praise for How to Build a Great Screenplay

"David Howard's How to Build a Great Screenplay is a rarity—not merely a 'how-to' guide, but the most comprehensive and thoughtful examination of storytelling, and as close to an entire graduate writing program, as one is likely to find within the covers of a single book."—Adam Belanoff, writer and producer on Cosby and Murphy Brown, and writer on Wings

"In this companion to The Tools of Screenwriting, Howard, founding director of the graduate screenwriting program at the University of Southern California, deals specifically with story structure, focusing on elements like connecting with an audience, creating drama and tension, and building subplots. This book [is thus] appropriate for screenwriting students; Howard's have gone on to pen the screenplays for successful films like Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight."—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • David Howard

  • David Howard is the founding director of the graduate screenwriting program at USC, where he teaches various courses in screenwriting. His students have scripted such successful films as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Air Force One, Permanent Midnight, and Natural Born Killers. The co-author (with Edward Mabley) of The Tools of Screenwriting, Howard lives in Los Angeles.