Posted in Writing

3 Quotes by Brian De Palma to Make You a Better Writer


Brian De Palma (born in 1940) is an incredible filmmaker, one of my all-time favorites. He has given us such classic films as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, and The Untouchables, among many others.

Here are some fantastic quotes about creativity he has shared throughout the years!

1. “You’ve got to remind yourself all the time that you’re being measured against the fashions of the day, and if your work truly has any kind of staying power, well, people will be talking about it in 20, 30 years.”

All we have is today. It’s all that’s really guaranteed. We get up, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get to work. We writers hopefully have at least a little bit of creative time at some point throughout the day. Thirty minutes. Maybe an hour or two. Maybe more than that if we’re lucky. And we put some new words down to see if they’ll eventually make an impact.

Something I think about when it comes to Brian De Palma’s movies is that so many of them were flops upon their release and yet today are considered classics. Look at Sisters. Look at Phantom of the Paradise. Look at Blow Out. Films that have fans all throughout the world and yet upon their initial release didn’t receive much attention critically or financially.

But he kept going anyway. He kept making the movies he wanted to make when he wanted to make them. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But he’s been an artist in the world of film for about fifty years now, and what a rich variety of movies he’s given us. He was often measured against the fashions of the day, the bigger movies, the more popular movies. But much of what he created stands the test of time 30 or more years later.

Such is the same when it comes to your writing career. You should never write what’s popular in order to be a success, in order to sell something. Write the stories you want to read, that are unique to you, that offer your voice to thousands of potential readers out there. Write incredible work that won’t be forgotten two years from now but instead will stand the test of time!

2. “I’ve been obsessed with this kind of visual storytelling for quite a while, and I try to create material that allows me to explore it.”

Brian De Palma has very famously been compared to Alfred Hitchcock, and you can definitely see the Master of Suspense’s influence on DePalma when it comes to Sisters, Carrie, Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out. He’s a very visual filmmaker. He writes scenes often that allow him to explore a kind of visual storytelling that can be awe-inspiring.

Something that you should constantly be thinking about when it comes to your fiction writing or screenwriting is how you can write a scene with as little dialogue as possible. How can you convey what the characters are thinking without having them just say what they’re thinking to a secondary character? How can you visualize a scene in a novel without much dialogue but also without explaining too much, without paragraph after paragraph of interiority, without two pages straight of description of the setting. How can you visualize a scene in an effective way… without being verbose?

It’s a tricky prospect, isn’t it? To write a visual scene with little dialogue and little description and little interiority. To focus on images, emotion, conflict. To find just the right amount of words to bring across visual storytelling to the reader that will excite and surprise and tantalize.

Allow yourself to explore the visual side of your storytelling, the same way De Palma does in his films.

3. “I have swum against the stream all my life. It’s not something I feel uncomfortable with. Is it difficult? Is it unpleasant? You bet.”

Brian De Palma came of age as a filmmaker in the 1970s along with the other masters of the decade like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and many others, and yet he’s the least known of this group and by far the most underrated. Many young film fans today will probably know who Spielberg and Lucas are, but very few will be familiar with the name De Palma.

And it’s because he went against the stream all his life. Sure, he made some financially successful films. Sure, he made some major studio films like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. But I would argue that 75% of the films he made were not super popular upon their initial release, and he never fully broke out as a major director figure like those other four.

De Palma has definitely swum against the stream. He’s rarely had a filmmaking experience that was easy from beginning to end, where everything worked out. He often found the filmmaking process difficult and unpleasant, but no matter how many problems he faced in his creative life, his not doing what was expected of him, his not following the stream, allowed for his unique and spectacular output of the last fifty years.

So do what De Palma did. Swim against the stream. Share your voice with the world in a way that feels right to you and not necessarily anyone else. If you put your heart into your work, if you give us 100% every single time, your work will find a home, will find fans all around the world.

Explore new themes. Take huge chances. Do anything you think you might be incapable of.

And the success will follow!

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