Many screenwriters have a hard time finding a story that will sweep them away and make them commit to working on it over time. Over the years I got to write quite a few scripts that started out wonderful, and as I went deeper, I realized that there might be an interesting story there, but not a story I really want to tell. I abandoned scripts in the middle of the writing process, and sometimes even returned to them later. I never want to force myself on a story I write, and if the ideas don’t connect to me naturally, and if I don’t have the energy needed to keep writing, I just stop, put the script pages in a drawer and wait for the moment to come, if at all.
But how do you find an idea for a story to write about? Does every subject have to be dramatic and big for us to start writing? Not necessarily. Sometimes it just comes easily and naturally, from our personal experiences, childhood traumas, great moments in our lives, stories we’ve heard, movies we loved, or articles we’ve read. And sometimes not. And when a good idea doesn't come naturally, we can easily find it if we just open our minds.
Drama and conflict can be found everywhere, even in the most seemingly boring situations, with characters that are not usually overwhelming. Anything can happen as soon as you ask one simple question:
"What if ..."
Let’s say the protagonist of our story is a dolphin, who has lived all its life at sea. So far a normal situation for any dolphin and boring for any reader. But once we ask ourselves "what if ..." we can get to amazing places.
"What if our dolphin's best friend dies suddenly?" "What if fishermen suddenly demarcate the dolphin area in a giant net?"; "What if the dolphin loses its voice and can no longer communicate with its friends?"; "What if the dolphin is swept ashore and unable to return to the sea on its own?"
So many possibilities open up as soon as we ask ourselves "what if?" - some will lead us to a fantasy story, others to a suspense story - and eventually you will find the direction that suits the story you want to tell. I encourage you to tell stories that matter to you, even if they don't make sense to others.
Tell valuable stories, about people who are on the fringes of the society in which you live, about those whose voices are not heard. This may sound dramatic and heavy, but it doesn’t have to be. You can tell a hilarious story about disability, like the Spanish comedy Champions, or a story about a kidnapping in a witty and entertaining way like Game Night.
No one wants to read the same stories with the expected plot line. Your story can cross genres (like the Oscar winner Parasite), it can have a different ending from the classic ending of they lived happily ever after, and it can surprise and confuse the reader.
Find ideas from your own experiences, from your culture. Face your deepest fears and be inspired by your failures - now is your chance to tell your story, only this time, you get to control it and choose the ending.
Before we start the first exercise, I’d strongly recommend setting a deadline. Many screenplays get stuck in the middle because the writer did not set themselves a deadline, or did not meet a deadline.
Write down the date and time that each project should be completed, even in small exercises that do not require long-term planning.
In larger projects, also set sub-goals, and try as much as possible to meet the schedule.
Exercise: "What if...?"
For these exercises, I need you to be completely honest, spontaneous, and open-minded. Take a pen, and let’s begin to go into the depths of consciousness.
The first exercise is relatively simple: Choose one of the following as your main character: Your annoying neighbor; the last person you spoke to on the phone; the man/woman of your dreams; the weirdest teacher you ever had; your favorite animal.
Now, write 3 “What if”s.
Choose one of the three, and write a short story. Remember, be spontaneous! The key to success is to simply start writing, without thinking too much.
I'd love to see what you've come up with! Follow me on Instagram and let's chat :)
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