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How To Find Great Ideas For Screenplays
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Where do great ideas come from? How do screenwriters come up with new ideas for their scripts?
When I first started writing, one of my fears was that I wouldn't come up with enough good ideas to write about - the irony, of course, is that now I have more great ideas than I can ever get around to writing.
Each scriptwriter has their own source of ideas, their own way of sparking their creativity - some find it easy, some find it hard. If you struggle to find ideas that excite you, consider these sources for your next screenplay:
Real life (your experiences or those of people you know) - Each of us has experiences in our lives that can be developed into a screenplay. The key is to find those that would be of interest to other people - you do that by finding the most interesting events from your life, adding fictional elements to jazz it up, then perhaps mixing in a different ending or some new characters.
Newspapers - Newspapers are regularly full of stories that are stranger than anything that you could think up! Take the time to read through the paper, looking not at the headline stories, but rather the small ones, the strange ones, the ones that don't give you much detail. Once you find something you like, it's time to play "what if... " "What if... " is simple to play. Take the germ of a story - miners trapped underground for example - and then ask "what if... "
What if it were a secret project and there was a saboteur among them?
What if there were just two miners left alive and they were enemies or rivals?
What if they were trapped because of a greater disaster above ground and when they emerged the world was radically different?
What if no one knew they were still alive?
What if there was an alien trapped down there with them?
Not every idea you come up with will be a winner, but the very process of brainstorming, of playing "what it?" will get your creative juices flowing.
Magazines (pictures) - Although as a scriptwriter you trade in words, images can be a powerful source of ideas. I often use magazines to get my students thinking creatively. It's easy to do - get yourself a stack of old magazines and a pair of scissors, then leaf through the magazine and cut out any images that attract your attention. Once you've got a few images, take a few minutes to look at each one and think about what happened before or after the image was taken - photos are little moments in time, but what happened right before that moment? And what will happen next?
All of these techniques are challenging your skills as a storyteller, your ability to take a thought, an image, an idea, and weave a story from it. And that, after all, is what scriptwriting is all about...
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