Life-Changing Advice From 100 Screenwriters

Dramas, rom-coms, thrillers, actions, horrors, comedies — professional screenwriters of all genres have one thing in common: their scripts became real, playable films. No matter their subject matter, there’s something to learn from all of them.

Download most of the following screenplays and more here for free.

This list is proof that the best advice comes from those who came before us.

ON THE ART OF STORYTELLING

1. “We tell stories because we have a hollow place in our heart. You don’t fill that with success. You fill it by finding yourself in the stories you tell.”

–Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water; Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos)

2. “We’re dramatists. Why do we care about history? We’re just trying to tell a story, and if the story doesn’t resound, then what does it matter, all that effort? For me, the reason I think it matters is because we’re not just creating stories, we’re creating historical documents.”

–Josh Singer (First Man; The Post; Spotlight)

3. “Every work of art is a synecdoche, there’s no way around it. Every creative work that someone does can only represent an aspect of the whole of something. I can’t think of an exception.”

–Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Adaptation; Being John Malkovich)

4. “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”

–Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)

5. “When I read a book or hear a story, whether it’s over the campfire or in a darkened theater, I just want to feel that I’m not alone. I want to see myself in other characters, and I want to relate to them and feel like, ‘Oh, I know what it’s like to feel what they’re feeling.’ It gives us a sense of comfort and it gives us a sense of how we fit into this crazy world.”

–Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place)

6. “All good, clean stories are melodrama, it’s just the set of devices that determines how you show or hide it.”

–Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby; Moulin Rouge!; Romeo + Juliet)

7. “If you see a movie that successfully puts yourself in the shoes of somebody different than yourself, you see the world differently. So I think the power of story is greater than the power of conversation, in a way.”

–Jordan Peele (Us; Get Out)

8. “We have a responsibility as artists to try and generate a conversation … Art has an amazing role to play, even now – to reflect on where we are, reflect on where we’ve been, and consider where we would like to go, and maybe inspire some people to talk about that.”

–Liz Hannah (The Post; Long Shot)

9. “We’re inundated all the time with so many things that are based on other existing properties or superhero movies. It’s just about finding new stories to tell.”

–Scott Beck (A Quiet Place)

10. “There are a million ideas in a world of stories. Humans are storytelling animal. Everything’s a story, everyone’s got stories, we’re perceiving stories, we’re interested in stories. So to me, the big nut to crack is how to tell a story, what the right way to tell a particular story.”

–Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise; Boyhood; Dazed and Confused)

ON IDEAS AND INSPIRATION

11. “I think you have to write the film that you want to see, and try to do it honestly.”

–Edgar Wright (Baby Driver; Ant-Man; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

12. “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.”

–Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men; The Social Network; Moneyball)

13. “A good imagination may be the best friend of loners.”

–Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde; 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s the Man)

14. “Inspiration can hit you in the head at any time in any context. It could happen in a conversation. Talking to someone at a party, you can get an idea. But you’ve got to remember those inspirations.”

–James Cameron (Avatar; Titanic; The Terminator)

15. “There are sometimes these projects that are around for a decade, and it’s because everyone knows they want to make a movie in the core of what it’s about, it’s just trying different iterations of how to tell that story.”

–Katie Silberman (Booksmart; Set It Up; Isn’t It Romantic)

16. “The coming up with ideas doesn’t happen when you’re trying to think of ideas. I don’t know that I ever sit somewhere and think, ‘Oh, I have to think of ideas now.’ An idea just sort of floats into your brain when you’re living your life. It’s not like you have 10 ideas a day. If you have two good ideas for a movie in a year, that’s amazing.”

–Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada; Morning Glory; We Bought A Zoo)

17. “If I’m hesitant at all about an idea, then that’s not the right idea.”

–M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense; Signs; Unbreakable)

18. “You need time. And that doesn’t mean necessarily even working full-time on it itself; it means time to throw some ideas together and let them sit, go off and do something else, come back and see what still feels right.” 

–Christopher Nolan (Inception; The Dark Knight; Dunkirk)

19. “I try to push ideas away, and the ones that will not leave me alone are the ones that ultimately end up happening.”

–J. J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens; Mission Impossible III; Super 8)

20. “The good ideas will survive.”

–Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction; Kill Bill; Reservoir Dogs)

ON THE GOOD STUFF — STRUCTURE, PLOT, CONFLICT, ETC.

21. “When I sit down to write a script, I’m not planning to write a script; I’m planning to make a film.”

–Alex Garland (Annihilation; Ex Machina; Never Let Me Go)

22. “A movie that happens everywhere matters nowhere.”

–Alfred Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Blackmail; Murder!)

23. “There is only one plot – things are not what they seem.”

–Jim Thompson (The Killing; Paths of Glory)

24. “There’s no story if there isn’t some conflict. The memorable things are usually not how pulled-together everybody is. I think everybody feels lonely and trapped sometimes. I would think it’s more or less the norm.”

–Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel; Moonrise Kingdom; The Royal Tenenbaums)

25. “My only conclusion about structure is that nothing works if you don’t have interesting characters and a good story to tell.”

–Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters; Caddyshack; Groundhog Day)

26. “I think what you have to do is resist the temptation to provide spectacle for spectacle’s sake and lose the intimacy and emotion behind your story.”

–Rhett Reese (Zombieland; Deadpool)

27. “People love conversation, and movies are conversations, and an audience has to participate. It has to fill in some blanks.” 

–Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape; About a Boy; Ben Is Back)

28. “If you’re going to do something that really upsets conventions, then you have to get inside the people watching and figure out when they are ready for a joke, when they are ready for drama or horror… it’s like building a roller coaster: when is it time to go down, when is it time to go up?”

–Joss Whedon (The Avengers; Justice League; The Cabin in the Woods)

29. “To me, watching a movie is like going to an amusement park. My worst fear is making a film that people don’t think is a good ride.”

–Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream; Noah; Mother!)

30. “It’s about allowing the audience to figure it out without shoving it all in their face.”

–Nat Faxon (The Descendants; The Way Way Back)

ON CRAFTING CHARACTERS

31. “For me, everything starts with character.”

–Steve Kloves (The Harry Potter series; The Amazing Spider-Man)

32. “The cinema that I make is a cinema about people, emotion, humanity, and passion. It’s not just about what they struggle through, but what they live for. That’s what I love. The music they love, the people they love, the clothing, the hair, and the life that they love.”

–David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook; American Hustle; Joy)

33. “You love all your characters, even the ridiculous ones. You have to on some level; they’re your weird creations in some kind of way.”

–Joel Coen (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; No Country for Old Men; Fargo)

34. “Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend time with them – they ‘ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.”

–Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird; Mistress America; Frances Ha)

35. “I just think people are super weird, so I like to write characters that get addicted to things, lose their minds, hurt others, put themselves in bad situations. I’m just more interested in that.”

–Leslye Headland (Sleeping with Other People; About Last Night)

36. “The most fun characters to work with are characters that are complicated.”

–Drew Goddard (The Martian; Bad Times at the El Royale; World War Z)

37. “I think that everything I tend to do roots for the underdog.”

–Judd Apatow (Knocked Up; The 40-Year-Old Virgin; This Is 40)

38. “The ordinary hero hiding in each of us is often the most powerful catalyst for change.”

–Tate Taylor (The Help)

39. “As a filmmaker, you’re always supposed to be with your characters, in all movies, even if they’re villains.”

–Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future; Forrest Gump; Cast Away)

40. “The thing is, when you paint somebody in all of their colors, they’re never all bad or all good. Even the worst person has humanity in there somewhere.”

–Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

ON WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

41. “It is very important that films make people look at what they’ve forgotten.”

–Spike Lee (Malcolm X; BlacKkKlansman; Do the Right Thing)

42. “What I learned in those years that I wasn’t writing, I now use in my writing.”

–Meg LeFauve (Inside Out; Captain Marvel; The Good Dinosaur)

43. “I write small and weird.”

–Diablo Cody (Juno; Young Adult; Tully)

44. “I like writing about popular culture. It helps to place people. I think you can be really, really accurate if you know enough about it, and place people precisely.”

–Nick Hornby (Brooklyn; Wild; An Education)

45. “We all write about the same things. We may disguise it, but we all write about love.”

–Steve Faber (Wedding Crashers; We’re the Millers)

46. “Write what you know, but also write what you want to know.”

–Scott Neustadter (The Disaster Artist; 500 Days of Summer; The Fault in Our Stars)

47. “Take it from your own life. Write what you believe in.”

–Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire; Almost Famous; Fast Times at Ridgemont High)

48. “I don’t think writers should write about answers. I think writers should write about questions.”

–Paul Haggis (Crash; Million Dollar Baby; Casino Royale)

49. “As a writer, my only guiding principle has been to write about things that scare me, write about things that make me feel vulnerable, write about things that will expose my deepest fears.”

–Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine; The Place Beyond the Pines; The Light Between Oceans)

50. “The more a project scares you, the more that probably means it’s worth doing.”

–Damien Chazelle (La La Land; Whiplash)

ON THEME AND UNIVERSALITY

51. “I always work backwards from theme. I know some people are driven by story first, or by character first, I’m driven by theme first. Every movie is about something.”

–Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give; Under the Tuscan Son; A Dog’s Purpose)

52. “When you write your own truth, you’re always amazed by how it’s actually universal truth.”

–Jenny Bicks (The Greatest Showman; What a Girl Wants; Rio 2)

53. “The challenge with this kind of work is in trying to make it everyone’s story. That can quickly make it no one’s story, and so I like projects that are risky and scary and that aren’t sure-shots.”

–Dee Rees (Mudbound; The Last Thing He Wanted)

54. “Life is not one tone: you laugh and you cry, and your heart breaks, and you have great, great happiness.”

–Paul Wernick (Zombieland; Deadpool)

55. “The things that make you laugh usually come from something that might have been painful and difficult when you were going through it at the time, but when you have time and context and you are able to look back on it, that’s the stuff I find most interesting. It’s a chance to revisit moments and see how lucky you where that nothing happened despite how dramatic it might have been.”

–Jim Rash (The Descendants; The Way Way Back)

56. “The world doesn’t grieve when you’re grieving. The world goes on about its business. You’re having a good day and I’m having a bad one and vice versa. And they could be very good and very bad at the same time. You multiply that by seven billion and you have one element of the human experience.”

–Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea; Gangs of New York)

57. “The more specific and particular you are in the storytelling, the more generally it applies. If you try to generalize, then nobody really gets anything. But if you’re very specific and personal about it, it seems to resonate more.”

–Pete Docter (Up; Inside Out)

58. “It seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of.”

–Richard Curtis (About Time; Love Actually; Notting Hill)

59. “Emotional truths can sometimes be conveyed more effectively, more compellingly, through fiction.”

–Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain)

60. “Make sure [the moral] is written into the whole story and it’s the reason the story takes place, otherwise it will end up on the cutting room floor.”

–Eleanor Bergstein (Dirty Dancing)

ON THE WRITING PROCESS

61. “Knowing what you are going to write is a huge part of it. Knowing what you want to write, knowing the story you want to tell. And then, in writing, leaving yourself open to the discovery and exploration that process provides.”

–Bill Kelly (Enchanted; Premonition)

62. “I think too many people are too organized; they’ve got it all worked out, instead of hearing their characters first. Get the goop out first, then organize.”

–Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People; Spider-Man 2; The Amazing Spider-Man)

63. “Writers who sit down and write might judge what they’re putting down, but I always just try to barf it out. I’m writing crap, but I’ll put it down.”

–Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect)

64. “When you’re writing, you don’t give a lot of thought to the practicality of it. You just want to write the funniest scene you can, whatever it is.”

–Jonathan M. Goldstein (Spider-Man: Homecoming; Horrible Bosses; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone)

65. “If I’m writing something and I’m not feeling mischievous, then I know it’s not going to be great.”

–Elizabeth Meriwether (No Strings Attached)

66. “Writing is a form of herding. I herd words into little paragraph-like clusters.”

–Larry McMurtry (Brokeback Mountain; Terms of Endearment)

67. “When you are stuck writing, it’s because you don’t know what you’re writing. You should go see a movie. Go for a walk. Hold hands with someone. Go to the park. Go on a bike. And when you think of something fun to write, find you way back and write it.”

–James Mangold (Walk the Line; Girl, Interrupted; Logan)

68. “Write as if someone is waiting for it.”

–Elizabeth Berger (Love, Simon)

69. “If I fall asleep with a pen in my hand, it counts!”

–Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Enough Said)

70. “You face the blank page, and you face it the next day and the next day and the next day. It never gets easier. It’s always hard and it never goes away, though over time you can find a happiness with it. You get to a place where you enjoy the process.”

–Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Seven Psychopaths; In Bruges)

ON THE CRAFT OF SCREENWRITING

71. “The most important thing is the script.”

–Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas; Silence; Casino)

72. “No matter how strong your voice is, if you don’t have a mastery of the tools, that voice is going to be suffocated.”

–Barry Jenkins (Moonlight; If Beale Street Could Talk; Medicine for Melancholy)

73. “The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.”

–Raymond Chandler (Double Indemnity; The Big Sleep; Murder, My Sweet)

74. “I think a story should take as long to tell as it is appropriate to that particular story.”

–Frank Darabont (The Green Mile; The Shawshank Redemption)

75. “You need to have a point for every page of your script. You need to have a reason why it is there and how it’s moving the story forward.”

–Peter Chiarelli (Crazy Rich Asians; The Proposal)

76. “I think part of being a good screenwriter is being as concise as possible.”

–Eric Roth (Forrest Gump; A Star Is Born (2018); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

77. “Dialogue is a necessary evil.”

–Fred Zinneman (Redes)

78. “Screenwriting is a collaboration in the end no matter what; it has to be.”

–David Magee (Finding Neverland; Life of Pi; Mary Poppins Returns)

79. “Experience has taught me that a screenplay is never finished.”

–George Wing (50 First Dates)

80. “Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit, and go back and smooth things out.”

–Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread; Magnolia; Boogie Nights)

ON IMPROVING YOUR CRAFT

81. “It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring.”

–Tina Fey (Mean Girls)

82. “You have to sometimes write really bad things in order to write really good things.”

–Tracy Oliver (The Sun Is Also A Star; Girls Trip; Little)

83. “Nine times out of 10, your first script isn’t going to sell. But if you can work at it and get good and write something that really connects with people, you can start a career … You gotta work hard and develop that skill and then, when you have something worthy, you have to bombard the world with it.”

–Dan Fogelman (Tangled; Crazy, Stupid, Love; Life Itself)

84. “If you work at something, you get better at it.”

–Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting; Promised Land)

85. “Don’t necessarily just rely on talent. I think I have some talent, but I know I have a lot of very strong work ethic. And when it looks really easy and really natural, a lot of the time so much insane hard work has come before that to make that stuff look easy.”

–Dana Fox (The Wedding Date; Isn’t It Romantic, Couples Retreat)

86. “Make your own stuff. Whether it’s short films or whatever you can do, my advice is to make your own stuff. I’m a real believer in preparation meets opportunity.”

–Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids; Megan Leavey)

87. “Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.”

–Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard; The Apartment; Some Like It Hot)

88. “I just try and decide what I’m interested in and what excites me. I don’t worry about how it’s going to be perceived.”

–Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster; The Killing of a Sacred Deer)

89. “I always assume that nothing that I make is going to be a success, that everything I make is going to be a failure — not a failure, but not some huge box-office success. If something is an artistic success, I’ll be happy.”

–James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name; Maurice)

90. “I’ve made up little mantras for myself, catchphrases from a screenwriting book that doesn’t exist. One is ‘Write the movie you’d pay to go see.’ Another is ‘Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.’”

–Taylor Sheridan (Sicario; Hell or High Water)

ON THE WRITER’S LIFE

91. “I consider my job as a screenwriter to pack a script with possibilities and ideas – to create a feast for the filmmaker to pick from.”

–Jonathan Nolan (Interstellar; The Prestige; The Dark Knight Rises)

92. “I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your screenplay, in your head, you’re also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.”

–Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally…; Julie & Julia; You’ve Got Mail)

93. “Like any kind of writing, there are good days and frustrating days. But even the frustrating days can be rewarding sometimes.”

–Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?; True Grit; Bridge of Spies)

94. “What you are doing is feeling the emotions that your characters are feeling, and finding the best way to express those emotions in the most powerfully felt, truthful, effective, moving way.”

–Ronald Bass (Rain Man; Before We Go; The Joy Luck Club)

95. “That’s part of the requirement for me to be an artist is that you’re trying to share your personal existence with others and trying to illuminate modern life, trying to understand life.”

–Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather; Patton; Apocalypse Now)

96. “The best thing, as a writer, is to pillage your own family mercilessly. Anything short of legal action.”

–Bob Nelson (Nebraska)

97. “You have to find a lifestyle that allows you time to write the thing and also meet people who will read the thing. Because without both parts of the equation, you’re not going to get there.”

–Isaac Aptaker (Love, Simon)

98. “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

–Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill; Raiders of the Los Ark; The Bodyguard)

99. “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy; even the normal ones are weird.”

–William Goldman (The Princess Bride; Misery; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

100. “I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I’m done is write another one. Then I don’t feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away.”

–John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; The Breakfast Club; Sixteen Candles)


Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.


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