50 Great Screenwriting Quotes

by ScreenCraft Staff on January 23, 2013

Here are 50 great quotes about screenwriting and writing to encourage, inspire and terrify you:


Dialogue is a necessary evil.

- Fred Zinnemann


The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.

- Philip Roth


There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.

—Jim Thompson
The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.

—Andre Gide


Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

—Virginia Woolf


If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

—Elmore Leonard


I could be just a writer very easily. I am not a writer. I am a screenwriter, which is half a filmmaker. … But it is not an art form, because screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art.

Paul Schrader


Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.

- Roman Polanski


Do not be told something is impossible. There is always a way.

- Robert Rodriguez
In England, I am a horror movie director. In Germany, I am a filmmaker. In the US, I am a bum.

- John Carpenter


My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to do this if you've got to be a filmmaker.

- Robert Wise


There is no reason why challenging themes and engaging stories have to be mutually exclusive - in fact, each can fuel the other. As a filmmaker, I want to entertain people first and foremost. If out of that comes a greater awareness and understanding of a time or a circumstance, then the hope is that change can happen.

- Edward Zwick

Here's an outdated quote! -- "A typewriter needs only paper; a camera uses film, requires subsidiary equipment by the truckload and Wellington several hundreds of technicians. That is always the central fact about the filmmakers opposed to any other artist: he can never afford his own tools."

- Orson Welles


If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.

- Stanley Kubrick

I became quite successful very young, and it was mainly because I was so enthusiastic and I just worked so hard at it.

- Francis Ford Coppola


I steal from every movie ever made.

- Quentin Tarantino


I don’t think screenplay writing is the same as writing — I mean, I think it’s blueprinting.

- Robert Altman


The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.

- Robert Bresson


You sell a screenplay like you sell a car. If someone drives it off a cliff, that’s it.

- Rita Mae Brown


The wise screen writer is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn’t take things too much to heart. He should have a touch of cynicism, but only a touch. The complete cynic is as useless to Hollywood as he is to himself. He should do the best he can without straining at it. He should be scrupulously honest about his work, but he should not expect scrupulous honesty in return. He won’t get it. And when he has had enough, he should say goodbye with a smile, because for all he knows he may want to go back.

- Raymond Chandler


We don’t need books to make films. It’s the last thing we want — it turns cinema into the bastard art of illustration.

- Peter Greenaway


Out of the thousand writers huffing and puffing through movieland there are scarcely fifty men and women of wit or talent. The rest of the fraternity is deadwood. Yet, in a curious way, there is not much difference between the product of a good writer and a bad one. They both have to toe the same mark.

Ben Hecht


A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.

David Mamet


Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.

— Enid Bagnold


To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.

— Allen Ginsberg


Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.

— William S. Burroughs


All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.

—Steve Almond


It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.

—Jack Kerouac


Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.

—Hunter S. Thompson


When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

—George Orwell


“ don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.

—Roald Dahl


We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

—Ernest Hemingway


Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

—Virginia Woolf


Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.

—Stephen King


If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.

—Peter Handke
Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

—Gore Vidal


We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.

—John Updike


The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

—Samuel Johnson


If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.

—Elmore Leonard


Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.

—Larry L. King


Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.

—Allegra Goodman


I’m out there to clean the plate. Once they’ve read what I’ve written on a subject, I want them to think, ‘That’s it!’ I think the highest aspiration people in our trade can have is that once they’ve written a story, nobody will ever try it again.

—Richard Ben Cramer


Style is to forget all styles.

—Jules Renard


I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.

—Tom Clancy


One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.

—Lawrence Block


Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.

—Leslie Gordon Barnard


If you tell the reader that Bull Beezley is a brutal-faced, loose-lipped bully, with snake’s blood in his veins, the reader’s reaction may be, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But if you show the reader Bull Beezley raking the bloodied flanks of his weary, sweat-encrusted pony, and flogging the tottering, red-eyed animal with a quirt, or have him booting in the protruding ribs of a starved mongrel and, boy, the reader believes!

—Fred East


Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.

—Leigh Brackett


The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.

—Joyce Carol Oates


When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.

—Stephen King


Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.

–Jack Kerouac


Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.

—Jim Tully, WD


Beware of advice—even this.

—Carl Sandburg


I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.

—Harper Lee


I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.

—Andre Dubus III


People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.

—R.L. Stine


I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.

—Ray Bradbury, WD


Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.

—Ray Bradbury, WD


Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.

—Ray Bradbury, WD

I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.

—Ray Bradbury, WD


It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.

—Ernest Hemingway


Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.

—George Singleton


You do not have to explain every single drop of water contained in a rain barrel. You have to explain one drop—H2O. The reader will get it.

—George Singleton


When I say work I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.

—Margaret Laurence


Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

—Annie Dillard
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.

—Ernest Hemingway


Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.

—Henry David Thoreau


"Literary talent is not enough. If you cannot tell a story, all those beautiful images and subtleties of dialogue that you spent months and months perfecting waste the paper they’re written on. What we create for the world, what it demands of us, is story. Now and forever. Countless writers lavish dressy dialogue and manicured descriptions on anorexic yarns and wonder why their scripts never see production, while others with modest literary talent but great storytelling power have the deep pleasure of watching their dreams living in the light of the screen.

Of the total creative effort represented in a finished work, 75 percent or more of a writer’s labor goes into designing story. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences? Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into story is our overwhelming creative task.

…But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told."

- Robert McKee


Always be yourself…unless you suck

- Joss Whedon


You can make a movie about anything, as long as it has a hook to hang the advertising on.

- Roger Corman


There are no dull subjects, only dull writers

- H. L. Mencken


A lot of times you get credit for stuff in your movies you didn’t intend to be there.

- Spike Lee


First get your facts, then distort them at your leisure

- Mark Twain


Journalism is the first rough draft of history

- Unknown


Feydeau’s one rule of playwriting: Character A: My life is perfect as long as I don’t see Character B. Knock Knock. Enter Character B.

- John Guare



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