Sunday Book Review – Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Sunday Book Review

Book reviews by D.G. Kaye


Today’s book review is on a different type of book for me. I’m not sure when my curiosity got the best of me but for some reason I’ve had a driving force pushing my interest into screenwriting. Perhaps I’ve read too much of Norah Ephron (one of my favs) and enjoyed her movies such as: When Harry Met Sally, but I’m pretty sure it was Norah who got my curiosity stirring on screenwriting. Besides, whether I ever decide to begin writing for the screen or not, I learned a lot about the process from this book – Screenplay by Syd Field,  is a highly praised book in the world of screenwriting books even in today’s time. Field wrote this book in 1979 and it’s still gold as the years prove with new editions made a few times since original publication.


Syd Field

Acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters” (CNN), Syd Field (1935-2013) is regarded by many Hollywood professionals to be the leading authority in the art and craft of screenwriting in the world today. The Hollywood Reporter calls him “the most sought-after screenwriting teacher in the world.”

His internationally acclaimed best-selling books Screenplay, The Screenwriter’s Workbook, and The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver have established themselves as the “bibles” of the film industry. Screenplay and The Screenwriter’s Workbook are in their fortieth printing and are used in more than 400 colleges and universities across the country and have been translated and published in 29 languages.




From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script..

Here are easily understood guidelines to make film-writing accessible to novices and to help practiced writers improve their scripts. Syd Field pinpoints the structural and stylistic elements essential to every good screenplay. He presents a step-by-step, comprehensive technique for writing the script that will succeed.

•Why are the first ten pages of your script crucially important?

•How do you collaborate successfully with someone else?

•How do you adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a screenplay?

•How do you market your script?


My 5 Star Review:

If you are interested in learning about the nuts and bolts of writing for the screen, Field’s book is the one to read. Writing for the screen is a different beast than writing novels and Field takes us through the whole process from inception of an idea to writing about, through the structure and format of writing for the screen. We learn the different actions a writer must take when telling their stories for the screen. In book writing, we are told to ‘show don’t tell’. In screen writing it is action  that speaks for what is on a character’s mind, and the directives that help set up the scenes.

The author uses many examples of iconic movies to take us through the construction of writing a screenplay. The movie Chinatown was used to dissect the form and essence of the movie’s production. Field shares a lot of his personal experiences going back to the beginning of his screenwriting career, which gives the book a personal feel.

Field teaches us the tools of the trade, how to write in screenplay form, when to use capital letters to distinguish between dialogue and directives, what doesn’t need to be added for camera directives, scene breaks, where to get scripts online to analyze the writing, how many pages a screenplay should be, how to create transitions when translating a book into a screenplay adaptation, and so much more.

I would recommend all writers to read this book as it gives a different perspective on writing and opens up the imagination to how a book gets translated into a screenplay. You will also look at movies a little closer, perhaps with a more discerning eye. #Recommended.


Some noteworthy quotes on screenwriting by Syd Field:

“Every scene must reveal one element of necessary story information to the reader or audience; remember, the purpose of the scene is to either move the story forward or to reveal information about the character.”

“Ten minutes is 10 pages of screenplay. I cannot emphasize enough that this first 10-page unit of dramatic action is the most important part of the screenplay.”

“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”


29 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

    1. I don’t know where I got this deep interest for screenwriting. I’m not sure I’m ready to take the plunge yet, want to read a few more books, maybe Save The Cat. How did you learn to screenwrite from novel writing? 🙂


  1. Oh, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, Debby. You know how much I dream about my short stories becoming episodes in a new version of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ This sounds like the book (and kick) I’ve been looking for. Something for me to read on my journey up to London on Friday, and my return journey on Sunday.
    Thank you.


    1. Awesome Hugh, I highly recommend it. And do yourself the favor of buying the paperback as you’ll want to dogear, highlight and go back to certain pages many times. 🙂 xxx


  2. Thanks, Debby. I did my PhD on the movies of David Mamet, who apart from writing plays also writes screenplays (originals and adaptations) so I’ve read plenty of scripts and plays (that might be slightly more similar, but not always) but this sounds like a great resource. Thanks for the recommendation.


  3. Great review, Deb. I’ve thought about this many times over the years. And you’re right; reading about screenwriting would certainly broaden our perspectives on writing in general. When watching action scenes, or long scenes with little dialogue, in movies, I’ve often wondered how they were written into the screenplay. Thank you for sharing this. Now I know who the expert is 🙂 ❤️


  4. Isn’t it interesting why some books get to become classics – sort of the foundation of other books in genre and subject.
    If you have the desire to write a screenplay, Debby, then you should. ❤


    1. Thanks Carol. I have the desire but not the time right now in my life. I’m merely floating with my head just above water. But I may delve deeper in the future. 🙂 ❤


  5. This is very interesting! I’ve been thinking about learning about screenwriting for a while now. This book reads like it would be a great way to start the process. Thanks for the review, Debby! 😀 xx


    1. Oh great Vashti. Nice to know someone who is also thinking about this mode of writing. Then yes, I highly recommend this as a great insight into the craft. Next I’m going to read Save the Cat, another highly praised oldie but goodie. 🙂 ❤


  6. Interesting review, Debby. I think your three noteworthy quotes possibly equate to any writing too. One must capture the audience from the start, and each scene must progress the story or provide information about the characters. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thank you Norah. I agree with you.The difference is in writing books we must evoke through showing. In movies and plays the characters must demonstrate through dialogue and action. 🙂


  7. Interesting, Debby. I could see how reading this book would increase anyone’s understanding and appreciation for films, or make them realize how books are adapted to films. What is a “directive”? A scene without action or dialogue? I like Field’s last quote: “All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.” We could use the same sentiment for our memoirs. 🙂


    1. True Liesbet, the conflict is necessary in all stories to build the story – fiction or not. And what I mean about directives are the parts involved in screenwriting where we are ‘setting up’ a scene, example: ‘a car with it’s highbeam lights speeds by and nearly sideswipes the character off their feet.’ Does that help? 🙂


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