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Script Ideas - Part I: Why is it important?

 

Finding a script idea is the most important part of the screenplay process.  Why?

Generally speaking, because the idea is the underlying reason why you want to write a screenplay.  Ideas come in all forms, shapes and sizes, only you know why you chose a certain idea or topic to write about.

Perhaps you want to write to entertain the cinema going audience with the next big blockbuster, perhaps even change the world and have something big to say, to share your experience or just simply write for yourself and your own accomplishment.

In this article I will focus on finding ideas, because when I watch a movie I like to get excited by things I haven’t seen before.  I want people to get the same sense of excitement when they read my idea.

Of course there are other reasons why I write, but when finding a basic idea I try to set the bar high and I believe every screenwriter should do so as well.

At the end of the day you have lots of people working on your movie, that’s if it even gets made.  People will pay from their hard earned money so that they may experience the great idea that you created!

Your  idea will lead to a story, then to a screenplay and perhaps then to maybe even a movie so thought provoking and powerful that it does much more than just entertain.

If you find yourself in this position, you have a responsibility.  Initially not only did you write for yourself and shared your screenplay, you should also take into account the movie going audience and their feelings towards your film.  There’ll also be those who will take a passing interest in your film...there always be the media and critics to contend with.

When coming up with a script idea, it’s important that you come up with something new and original, not something plagiarized. So why is it important?

Be proud by knowing that you worked on your own idea.  Find excitement in knowing that your original idea can and will entertain others.

You want to provoke thought, make people think, cry or laugh by sharing your beautiful or sad experiences, get a message across, etc.

Because a truly original idea is what sets you apart from other writers and gets your screenplay turned into a movie.

What is an original idea?

An original idea or concept is something the regular moviegoer hasn’t seen yet or something they have seen, but the writer, namely you manages to put a spin on it.

This is particularly really important.  You have to break through the clichés and come up with something fresh.  How often have you seen a movie or something in a movie and thought that it’s been done before? 

If you can deliver something fresh and exciting you not only inspire yourself while working on the idea, but also the one reading it.

You will notice that this lesson is a little longer than usual.  Unfortunately this topic is not something that most writers or teachers go into detail with, be it books or in a classroom.

A lot of people assume ideas come naturally or they’re easily thought up; to perhaps a lucky few but not to most.  A lot of people ask me how I come up with ideas or how to actually come up with good ideas themselves.  So I thought I’d go into a little bit more detail with this super most important part of the screenplay writing process.


Script Ideas - Part II: Finding Snippets

 

“From a tiny spark may burst a mighty flame”. - Dante

I love this quote, as I personally believe that the most tiniest thought can turn into the most tremendous idea. 

As a writer it is important to collect what I call daily snippets.  Let me give you an example before I go into detail about where you can find those snippets.

 

Snippet 1: 

While I was looking to buy a new cool bikini, I stumbled across a Ouija board bikini.  I thought about how I would feel about wearing such a bikini or even more so what could happen once I put it on? Of course, communicating with a spirit!  There was my idea.  Then I thought what to do with my initial idea.  This brings me to the next part of the snippet:

 

Snippet 2:

At that time I had recently seen “The Shallows” and thought to myself why is it always have to be sharks?  I loved the idea of a surfer movie.  Most surfer movies I have seen so far are drama, thrillers and tend to deal with sharks, with the exception of “Point Break” which is one of my personal favourites.  I wanted to combine surfing with something different. 

 

Snippet 3:

Not long ago I saw a short film called “One Last Dive”.  It’s an underwater ghost short film which inspired me to come up with my own “water ghost movie” ideas.  I thought it would be cool to combine surfing and ghosts.

This is how I got to create “Surf Séance”, a horror short script about a surfer girl who gets haunted by a dead surfer after waking his spirit on a beach through a séance using her Ouija bikini.  I know it sounds crazy, but with short films you are allowed to go crazy. 

So from the combination of these snippets I came up with my main idea which is why I love the following quote too: 

“A great idea is simply the combination of many good ideas.” – John C. Maxwell

So true, I absolutely love that quote.  And that is how you generate a basic movie idea into a viable concept, the first step is to just collect snippets.


Script Ideas - Part III: Where to find snippets?

 

So where can one find snippets? Everywhere.  Even when buying a bikini. ☺

The art of collecting snippets is to figure out which ones are original and which ones aren’t.  You can train yourself to do this. 

To do this, be open and observant, use your imagination.  Try to take in everything you see, read, hear, taste, feel, anything and everything that goes through your mind, get in touch with your emotions.  As you do this, see if there is anything that is different, unusual or interesting. 

It’s also beneficial to have a good understanding and interest in human nature.  It’s essential to understand and create characters, stories, conflicts, etc. 

Finding snippets have to become a part of you.  You have to live and breath ideas, be constantly on the lookout for them.  As a writer it is important to be an idea generator. 

It’s also important to remember not to get too attached to one idea.  Write them down, create loglines around them then write a screenplay. Just don’t get too attached to one idea or concept, as you don’t know if that idea will take off. Be open to changing your ideas in a heartbeat. 

Plus if you ever get asked to do rewrites or want to work as a script consultant, you’ll need to be able to be creative all the time, anytime and be able to let go of your precious ideas.

There are so many options to choose from where you find snippets.  I wrote down the ones I deem most helpful:

 

Dreams:

I’m a vivid dreamer and can remember lots of my dreams in detail, but to be honest I haven’t written them down...yet.  But since researching this topic on ideas for this article, I have now started doing so.  Dreams can be a great way to get ideas.  Here are some great articles I found on the topic:

Use Your Dreams To Be Endlessly Creative

Generate ideas in your sleep

 

Everyday Out and About:

The moment you leave your home and venture into the world there are ideas to be found all around you.  Just scan the environment and “people watch”.  You’ll be amazed of what you’ll see and discover. 

I always see a lot of things while driving.  Better yet, take your local transit and just listen and observe, it’s so much fun! 

The clue is to have an open mind and really use all of your senses.  Take it all in everyday and if it is out of the ordinary or interesting, be quick to write it down in your ideas notepad.

Some summers ago I had a truck with a load of beautiful plants and flowers in front of me. It looked so amazing, like an oasis.  It lead me to write my short screenplay “Meadow Shadow”.

 

Travel:

Finding snippets while going on holiday, getaways, etc. is one of the best times to harvest ideas.  Why?  Because we tend to be way more relaxed.  Our mind is not filled with the buzz of everyday life and we are already in exploring mode. 

So do the same as I mentioned in “Everyday Out and About”, take it all in while remembering to write it all down.

 

Visuals:

Remember movies are visual so if you can explain something visually with using little to no dialogue then you’re doing marvelous, ideally you’ll want to provide some really cool visual ideas in your screenplay. 

So collect visuals, anything what seems unusual.  It could come from magazines, photographs, paintings, people, things you see out and about.  Think about what intrigues you about a visual, create a scene or a story with the visual.

One of my favorite pictures I found in a magazine was an impressive super tall patio stone fireplace on the edge of a dramatic sea landscape.  It was pretty spectacular find, which I will for sure use in one of my future stories.

 

Within your Personality:

Please refer to our Lesson - Script Personality.

 

People and People’s Stories:

Your everyday people can be a great source for ideas.  Just by spending time with them, getting to know them or listening to their experiences can bring you great ideas.  Plus you can also get a great insight into their character.  I mentioned before that understanding how people tick is important to writing a screenplay. 

Characters in your screenplay act and behave a certain way for a reason.  The more insight you can get into real life people, the easier it will be to create screenplay characters and make them come to life. 

I constantly analyze people around me to understand why they do what they are doing, who they are, where they are coming from.  I ask them questions.  It’s fun, it helps me with my day-to-day life and writing.

Listen in on conversations or to people who talk to you.  Write it down.  Also note their speech, mannerisms, how they dress, etc.

A former friend of mine got heavily stalked by her ex-boyfriend.  Of course I got an idea from that and put a version of her into my short film screenplay.

 

The big screen, small screen and Literature:

Books, Movies, TV Series, News, Documentaries, etc.  They can all be a source of inspiration for your next ideas.  Just collect what you feel enthusiastic about.

Plus if you watch or read things on a regular basis, you keep yourself up to date creatively with what is happening in the world, but also realistically.  Your screenplay will be more relatable if you have a universal and contemporary approach. 

While stories stay timeless, it is a good idea if your ideas are fresh and relatable to what is going on in the real and cinematic world.

Then again history, old movies, old books etc. can not only be inspirational but give you insight into human nature and the environment and how the two evolved over time.  “Old school learning” is and always will be a great way to learn and get inspired.

I once wrote a vampire/western screenplay.  My dad loves westerns, so it rubbed off on me and well, horror has always been my first love, so I thought vampires and the ole’ west would work well together.

 

Magazines, Newspapers:

You can get amazing ideas from magazines, newspapers and your local community newspaper, you don’t even need to buy them. Libraries can be a great source for all kinds or reading materials.  Of course you can also read them on your iPad or online.  Definitely a much cheaper option. 

If you work your way through magazines and newspapers, look at everything which springs out.  It could be unusual visual advertising, interesting stories, news, etc.

Touching once more on my “Surf Séance” idea as an example; I love crafting and interior decorating.  That being said, I do read related magazines and one article had beach style carved pumpkins for Halloween, of course I made use of that for my story.

 

Online:

There are so many ideas to find everywhere online and it's a great source as it gives you access to ideas from all over the world.  A good way to find ideas is to search out news headers like odd news, unusual places, etc. 

 

Reinvent other Ideas:

Combine movie ideas, rework stories like myths, fables, fairy tales, classics and make them fresh, reinvent old stories, etc., there are endless possibilities! 

A couple of examples are “Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Slayer”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, the 90’s movie “Clueless” based on “Emma”, “Scream”; films that twisted the horror genre and turned them on it's head!


Script Ideas - Part IV: Exercise, Tip and Selected Links

 

Exercise:

Make an idea-finding day using the approach mentioned in the article above and collect snippets.  Don’t force it, just go with the flow and observe, have fun with it.  You will be amazed with what you come up with.

 

Tip:

Find the best way to write down your ideas.  It could be in an excel spreadsheet, word document, journal or what have you.  Try out a couple of things and see what you feel most comfortable with.  There are also apps and software to be found online so you can write down and organize your ideas.

 

Selected Links:

Script Aid provides lots of inspiration for ideas if you check out our different categories.