How to Come Up with Great Ideas

04.04.2018 |

Episode #2 of the course Getting started screenwriting by Jurgen Wolff


In the previous lesson, you discovered the most important qualities to develop if you want to have a career as a screenwriter. In this lesson, you’ll find a simple tool that will help you come up with strong plots that build an emotional connection with the viewer.


Decide Your Genre

The direction we take the story depends partly on the genre we want to use. Do you want to write a thriller? A mystery? A comedy? A drama?

Write what you like to watch. If you’re a big fan of action films, you’ll already understand the elements they contain, how they’re structured, and what makes one good and another one boring. If you love comedies, you probably have a good sense of humor yourself and can come up with a funny plot.

But don’t try to follow a trend. If the big thing is vampire movies, don’t try to write one of those if you don’t really like them yourself. Without a real feeling for that genre, your script won’t be good. Also, by the time a trend is apparent, it’s usually already too late to get on board.


“What If?” Is a Great Story-Building Tool

The question “What if …?” is a great way to begin to build a story. You take something that’s happened to you or that’s in the news, and you advance the story with “What if …?”

For example, I read a newspaper article about a teacher who was goaded by a pupil and ended up bashing the kid with a barbell. Though found innocent of attempted murder, he’ll still be punished, but the judge said it won’t involve a prison sentence.

Let’s see what we can do with this story in three different genres:

• What if the student’s family decides to get their revenge by pushing the mentally fragile teacher over the edge again? Or what if someone else out to get him makes it look like the student and his family are behind it? Either of those could make a good thriller or mystery.

• What if the jury had found him guilty and he’s the one who plots revenge, but when he gets out of prison, he finds that the student, who is now an adult and the father of a small child, has changed? That could be a good drama.

• What if the attack on the teacher causes an injury that reveals he’s not human—he’s an alien and has to go on the run? That could be a good science-fiction plot.

It’s easy to see how the stories could appeal to the basic emotions we all have, such as the desire for justice, the anger of being bullied, and the fear of being persecuted.

Your turn: Decide on what genre most appeals to you, and take a minute to think of and write down a few what-ifs that might fit this story.


Keep Your Eyes Open

As you go through your day, keep your eyes and ears open for possible story starting points. Jot them down or make a note on a phone app. Then brainstorm some what-ifs for each one.

And here’s a tip: Go for the unexpected. People want to go to the movies to experience feelings. Look for starting points that have an emotional aspect and come up with what-ifs that are unexpected.

Of course, the “what if” won’t give you a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, but you’ll find out how to fill in the rest of the plot in a later lesson. For now, though, you’ve picked up a tool that can put you on the track of an exciting plot.

The heart of your script is the protagonist, the main character in the story. Tomorrow, you’ll discover how to create a powerful protagonist.


Recommended book

The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell


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