Lesson 1 – Developing Your Idea


Since this is a workshop your going to need to get yourself a good quality pen and a new notebook. My choice is to hand write all of the notes first. This blog was completely handwritten before I sat down and typed them out. When development notes are handwritten the writer is less likely to dispose of them. You can hand write a page of information and only have one line of useable material, however on a computer, if you delete that page, you will lose the one sentence of true gold. Each story idea is given a new notebook to fill. I use various types of Post-It notes and highlighters to ensure the good information is not lost amongst the thousands of words.

Do you have an idea for a screenplay? If you do that’s great but let’s see if we can find you a few more ideas to work with. The first question a non-writer will ask a writer is “Where do you find your ideas?” If that non-writer were to ask ten different writers he would get at least ten different answers. Raw ideas are everywhere. We have hundreds of ideas a day. We are surrounded by hundreds of more ideas each day. You just need to know where to look. Let’s explore 6 of the more interesting places to find writing ideas.

 1. Writing prompts. There are websites, apps, books, Twitter accounts and magazines that provide a constant stream of writing prompts to provide writers with a muse. A writing prompt can be as simple as a list of three of four words with which the writer uses to create a story. It could be a short paragraph detailing a situation that the writer explores the outcome. The purpose of a writing prompt is to get your creative juices flowing.

 2. Listening to conversations. We all do it at some point. We sit on public transit and overhear conversations going on around you. Two people talking will give you both sides of the conversation but I much prefer one-sided conversations, such as a rider on their cell phone as the creativity comes from creating the other, unheard side of the conversation. Who is the speaker on the other side of the phone? What makes this phone call important?

 3. Junk mail. We all get far more than our share of junk mail throughout our day. Our email inboxes are filled with them and when we get home there is more waiting for us in our mail box. Does any of that mail carry the kernel of a possible story idea? What if next Saturday’s Open House had to be cancelled because the realtor discovered a body hanging in the living room? See how the writing ideas start to flow?

 4. Newspapers. Read the headlines, stories and letters to the editor to get ideas for characters and complete stories. Even the ads might spark an idea or two. A word of warning, however, if you choose the write about a specific event factually then you must take the time to acquire the rights to the story. I recommend speaking with a lawyer before proceeding. You could use the news event to create a unique story as long as there is no way to connect your story to the news story you discovered in the paper.

 5. Novels and short stories. What’s better than using an existing story to create a screenplay? Everything you need is right there laid out in front of you and all you need to do is adapt it. If it’s your own story there is no problem, but if it was written by someone else (even a good friend) you need to secure the rights to the story. The disadvantage of this idea is that there is very little space for the screenwriter to be creative without possibly upsetting the original author or her fans.

 6. Other movies make interesting stepping off points. I’m not talking about copying or using the same characters (which could be possible with all of the correct legal permissions established) but rather borrowing the basic plot line. West Side Story shares part of its plot with Romeo & Juliet for example. Star Wars is the basic ‘rescue the damsel in distress’ plot line with a few twists. What sort of film can you create by combining ideas from different existing films into one story line?

 It’s one thing to have ideas, it’s another to have those ideas available when your ready to start writing. You know about carrying around a small notebook with you at all times, but with today’s technology even that is a thing of the past. Every smart phone on the market has some sort of note taking app (or voice recording apps) on it with hundreds of others available for download. Taking the time to write down your ideas, even in a few words allows you remember them easier when you’re sitting in your office ready to write.

Assignment 1-1

On a new page in your screenplay’s notebook write down 
five (5) different ideas you have for a screenplay. 
These ideas are not meant to be well thought out but 
rather just the basic premise or hook of the film. 

Example 1-1
1. Cupid falls in love
2. A woman living a secret life has her secret exposed
3. Superhero vs. A City
4. A dying woman searches for her estranged daughter
5. A junior hockey player must overcome a tragedy

These are my five ideas. Throughout this each of these Workshop blog posts are assignments for you to complete as well as my answers to the assignment. I will be writing a screenplay right along with you. I will be doing each of the assignments as well to show you how the process and formula works. In this case I’ve asked you for five ideas to help you get yourself in the writing mood. Writing requires an open mind, a mind willing to consider all possibilities from the logical to the illogical. Nothing is off the table. I think, like my list above, your list of five will include the one idea you really want to write. Keep the other four ideas. They may end up the jumping off point for your next screenplay. Take a moment and select the idea you want to develop further. Once you’ve picked your favourite idea, write it down at the top of the first page in your notebook.

If you have any other ideas take a moment and add them to your list of five. A good write collects ideas like other people collect parking tickets. I’ve selected the following idea from my five.

Assignment 1-2

Select the idea from your list that you most want 
to develop into screenplay.

Example 1-2

Superhero vs. The City

With the success of the Marvel superhero films and the projected films still to come I believe a good superhero film will sell. Now that we have an idea it’s now time to develop it into a screenplay. We’ll begin that process next Tuesday. I’ll see you then.

– Steve


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