Books on Musical Theatre, Dialogue and Book Writing

Scroll down and you’ll see a list of all my writing reference books that I use for preparing new musical theater works. I’ve read each of these books cover to cover and some I have read many, many times over and over. I do have some favorites in this list but I’m not listing them in any particular order because what you get from each book may be wildly different than what I learned from each book. We all have “holes” in our knowledge which is different for everyone. For me, these books helped fill in the holes of my knowledge with a deeper understanding of structure, character arcs and story development.

A couple of these books I’ve had for many years but most of these I read in 2018-2019 in preparation for my fourth original musical. This latest musical was widely considered by audience members to be my strongest musical theater work yet. I put the credit to many factors, but mostly it came down to really, really hard work and understanding the content in these books at a gut level.

I judge my theater works on a few metrics which includes tickets sold and how many standing ovations each show received. I don’t count it as a standing ovation unless it’s a full audience “O” within ten seconds of the final number. To me that’s a true “O”. So here’s ticket sales and standing “O”s from my first four musicals and you’ll see that there was a big improvement with the study of these books and their implementation into the latest musical and script.

Conrad Askland musicals:

Musical #1 (2012)
Tickets Sold: 2200
Standing Ovations: 0/10

Musical #2 (2013)
Tickets Sold: 2500
Standing Ovations: 7/10

Musical #3 (2015)
Tickets Sold: 1250
Standing Ovations: 3/10

Musical #4 (2019)
Tickets Sold: 4,000
Standing Ovations: 10/10

The books listed below are mainly focused on the craft of writing. I have additional books on orchestration and of course we all study the orchestra and conductor scores of famous musicals. It’s a lot of work to go through all these books but for me it was worth every minute to experience the end result of a show that landed very strong with audiences.


Comedy Writing Self-Taught Workbook – Gene Perret and Linda Perret

Dialogue – Kempton

Dialogue – Rober McKee

Narrative, Identity and the Map of Cultural Policy – Constance DeVereaux and Martin Griffin

How NOT to Write a Screenplay – Flinn

Words with Music – Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto – Lehman Engel

Sondheim on Music – Mark Horowitz

The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters – Iglesias

The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide – Spencer

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell – Hardy

The Writer’s Journey – Vogler

Conflict and Suspense – James Scott Bell

Finishing the Hat – Stephen Sondheim

Playwriting Seminars 2.0 – Richard Toscan

Steering the Craft – Ursula Le Guin

How Musicals Work – Julian Woolford

The American Musical Theater – Engel

The Making of Musical Theater – Engel

The Secret Life of the American Musical – Jack Viertel

The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

Writing Without Boundaries – Pattison

The Art of Script Editing – Karol Griffiths

Creating Character Arcs – K.M. Weiland

A Practical Handbook for the Actor – Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previto, Scott Zigler

The Elements of Style – Strunk and White

Three Uses of the Knife – David Mamet

The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue – Hough

How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method – Randy Ingermanson

Songwriting Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure – Pat Pattison

Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

Songwriting Essential Guide to Rhyming – Pat Pattison

The Comic Toolbox – Vorhaus

True and False – David Mamet

Writing Better Lyrics – Pat Pattison

Script Analysis – Thomas

Popular Lyric Writing – Andrea Stolpe

The Art of Character – David Corbett

How Music Works – David Byrne

The Dramatists’s Toolkit – Jeffrey Sweet

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein

Behind Bars – Definitive Guide to Music Notation – Elaine Gould

The Anatomy of Story – John Truby

Creative Courage – Wiley

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