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November 10, 2023

How To Write Like Martin Scorsese

When we think of influential figures in filmmaking, Martin Scorsese is right up there as one of the best. Not only for his directing but also for the powerful stories his films tell. His collaborations with notable screenwriters like Paul Schrader have led to some of the most memorable films in cinema, such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas These films offer more than just entertainment; they serve as a blueprint for effective storytelling and character development.

Why study Scorsese?

For screenwriters aspiring to make an impact, understanding Scorsese’s techniques can be incredibly beneficial. His approach to storytelling is distinctive, often breaking away from traditional narratives to explore the depths of complex characters and their worlds. In his films, the way a story is told is as important as the story itself, combining strong visual elements, realistic dialogue, and immersive settings.

In this blog post, we aim to dissect the essence of Scorsese's approach to filmmaking. From his vivid portrayal of urban life to the intricate inner workings of his characters, Scorsese's films are rich with elements that screenwriters can learn from. This exploration is not just about admiration but about practical application – how to create narratives that engage and characters that resonate with audiences.

Let’s dive into the world of Martin Scorsese and discover how screenwriters can apply some of his storytelling techniques to enhance their own scripts.

Story techniques

Let's start by breaking down some classic Scorsese techniques that he uses and you can emulate too.

Non-linear sequences

One of the biggest hallmarks of a Scorsese film is the use of nonlinear storytelling. This technique, showcased prominently in films like Pulp Fiction and Raging Bull breaks away from conventional linear narratives, presenting stories in a way that challenges and engages the audience. For screenwriters, adopting this method can add a layer of intrigue and depth to their scripts, encouraging viewers to piece together the narrative puzzle as the story unfolds.


Another hallmark of Scorsese's storytelling is the effective use of voiceovers and multiple perspectives. In Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street voiceovers serve not just as a narrative device but as a window into the characters' minds, offering insights that might not be evident through actions alone. This technique can be particularly powerful in screenwriting, allowing writers to develop a stronger connection between the audience and the characters.

Additionally, by presenting stories from multiple viewpoints, as seen in Casino Scorsese creates a more rounded and intricate narrative, something that screenwriters can emulate to add richness and complexity to their scripts.

Flawed but relatable characters

Scorsese excels in creating characters who are deeply flawed yet profoundly relatable, often reflecting the broader themes of the narrative. This approach to character development is a goldmine for screenwriters seeking to craft memorable and impactful characters in their scripts.

Scorsese’s characters, from Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street are never one-dimensional. They are intricately layered, often grappling with internal and external conflicts that drive the story forward. This depth makes them more than just characters in a plot; they become real people with whom audiences can empathize, despise, or even root for. For screenwriters, this means focusing not just on a character's actions but also on their motivations, backstories, and evolution throughout the story.

Jordan Belfort the main character in Wolf of Wall Street in a white polo shirt on a boat pulling a funny face
Jordan Belfort is a flawed but ultimately loveable character

Belfort is the narrator of The Wolf of Wall Street but he tells the film from the future tense. This greats an interesting dynamic where he is able to comment on his past experiences and his mistakes through the lens of his present when he is a changed man. This builds trust and fosters a deep relationship because it is a man reflecting on his past mistakes and inviting us to see where he went wrong with hindsight.

Moreover, Scorsese’s characters often embody the film’s central themes, serving as conduits for exploring larger societal issues. For instance, the protagonists in The Irishman and Gangs of New York reflect on themes of loyalty, power, and identity. As screenwriters, weaving thematic elements into character development can enrich the narrative and offer a more profound commentary on the human experience.

Incorporating these elements of character development in screenwriting can lead to creating characters that are not only pivotal to the narrative but also leave a lasting impression on the audience. By giving characters depth, complexity, and a strong thematic connection, writers can elevate their scripts from simple stories to compelling portrayals of the human condition.

Themes and motifs

One of the most compelling aspects of Martin Scorsese's filmmaking is his exploration of recurring themes and motifs. His films often delve into profound themes such as redemption, guilt, and the pursuit of the American dream, making them not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. This exploration of deep themes offers a valuable lesson for screenwriters in crafting stories that resonate on a more meaningful level.


In many of Scorsese's films, characters are driven by a quest for redemption or are haunted by guilt. This is evident in Raging Bull where the protagonist's journey is as much about personal redemption as it is about boxing. Similarly, Taxi Driver explores themes of loneliness and societal disconnect that we are all only too familiar with.

Screenwriters can learn from this by weaving complex themes into their narratives, creating stories that are not only about external events but also about internal struggles and moral dilemmas.

We'd encourage you to think about your own life and consider lessons you've learned. How can you exaggerate or represent these issues on a larger scale.

The American dream

The motif of the American dream, often portrayed through the lens of crime and ambition, is another recurrent theme in Scorsese’s work. In Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street we see characters who are seduced by the allure of wealth and power, only to face the consequences of their unbridled ambition. For screenwriters, incorporating such motifs can add layers of complexity to their scripts, challenging audiences to ponder the moral and ethical dimensions of their characters' pursuits.

Incorporating themes and motifs into screenwriting not only enriches the narrative but also allows writers to engage with their audiences on a deeper level. By reflecting on societal issues and the human condition, scripts can transcend the boundaries of entertainment, offering insights and provoking thought. Screenwriters can take a cue from Scorsese's approach to embed meaningful themes in their stories, making their work not just a script but a reflection of life itself.

Make your scripts stand out like Scorsese

Diving into Martin Scorsese's cinematic universe, we uncover a wealth of insights for screenwriters. His unique storytelling, the way he brings characters to life, and his deep dive into themes, provide us with a guide for creating stories that are not just complex and engaging, but also deeply human. Scorsese's films teach us a crucial lesson: at the core of every great script is a story that truly connects, one that reaches out and touches the audience, lingering in their minds well after the screen goes dark.

Remember if you want to write like Martin Scorsese you need a tool that makes your writing flow as naturally from your brain and onto the page as easily as possible. Arc Studio has got your back. Download it for FREE today.


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How To Write Like Martin Scorsese
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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