November 4, 2019

4 Ways to Help You Write Your Next Original Screenplay

Want to write an original screenplay? It can be hard mining for answers, so let's take over the brainstorming together. 

Writing an original screenplay is so hard. Original scripts and ideas are hard to come by in Hollywood. We see people bemoaning the remakes, rebootquels, and blockbusters based on intellectual property. But it's hard to argue with Hollywood's business model. People buy tickets to things that are familiar. 

So why the hell are we spending time on original ideas? Because a great original idea proves so many things about you as a writer. 

It shows you can create characters, worlds, dialogue, stakes, and story all from thin air. Original ideas certify you as a creator. 

I have nothing but respect for any adaptation -- they're incredibly hard on their own -- but I'll always have a soft spot for originals because of the significant creative freedom they give you as a writer. You're not beholden to anyone but yourself. There's something innately special about that personal challenge. 

But original scripts are not easy to write. First, you need to learn...

Original screenplays feel like magic. When you sit to write, you're breathing life into a world. People and situations exist because of you. But where do these ideas come from? And how come some people seem to think of them so easily? 

I'm not Malcolm Gladwell. I don't have a scientific study to tell you how to work these things out. But I do have things that work for me.

1. Take It Straight From the Headlines 

Pick up a newspaper, a magazine, or do some Google-ing. Look at news stories and see how they affect you. Then, see if any of them would be a good logline where you just made up the rest of the world within it. 

This kind of real-world crutch can help you start to build out what's fake. Even the smallest details from a story can make your ideas flourish. This works with history books as well. Historical fiction can be great. Or make the history work for you in a new reality! 

And while they're flourishing...

2. Live Your Life 

You probably hate me for telling you this, but you have to live your life. Almost all of my original script ideas come from me heightening the situations I find myself in day to day. 

Here's the thing about original ideas: If we want them to succeed, then they need to feel relatable. That doesn't mean they have to be grounded. Feel free to live in another universe or make toasters talk, but the problems at hand need to connect with something we understand as humans. 

What's a problem you're having in life right now? How can writing a movie or TV show about it help you through that tough time? 

My post on happiness really opened up my work. The next time you're in the bank, think about how you would rob it. Or survive a robbery. 

Where would you go in your neighborhood during a zombie attack? What would you do if you needed a thousand dollars in an hour?

This leads me to the next idea...

Writing Prompts 

The header above is a link to 75 writing prompts that should get your creative juices flowing. 

These prompts are meant to get you starting things out. Use prompts, but don't let them become an addiction. Feel free to bend and break them when you need to, because it's important that you always maintain control of your own story. 

Do some pre-writing

Here's a formula I use before I start any project. I hope it helps you: 

  • Work on a dozen loglines 
  • Take the three best loglines and make a beat sheet
  • Take the two beat sheets with the strongest endings and write outlines
  • Take your strongest outline and write a treatment
  • Send that treatment to friends and get feedback
  • If the feedback doesn't make you excited to write...
  • Go back to step one. 
  • If the feedback makes you even more excited...
  • Then get writing

What's next? Learn about Adapted Screenplays

Today, we’re going to go over how to write an adapted screenplay. We’re going to look at some adapted screenplay examples, learn about securing the rights for your adapted screenplay, and discuss how to pick the crucial plot points and story beats from your adapted screenplay’s source material.     

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