Screenwriting 101: Where Do Ideas Come From

Mythology offers a well spring of inspiration.

By Brock Cooper (doddleNEWS)

I have talked about how the way a screenplay is written is rather formulaic. It’s the nature of the industry, and it’s difficult to get something made that breaks that formula, especially for a new writer.  However, your plot can come from anywhere.  The idea has to be fresh and unique, but the inspiration for those ideas can be centuries old.

Mythology

Where would Percy Jackson or “The Immortals” be if it hadn’t been for Greek mythology? Mythologies of different civilizations have long been used as inspiration for movies. The ideas can be literal such as “Clash of the Titans“ or more subtle such as “The Matrix.” Mythology is the base of the story and you develop the plot using those components. Maybe you like a certain God or aspect of the mythology; you can use that as a starting point and let your imagination loose from there.

Your Own Life

We all have our own stories and expertise that few other do. Maybe you spent five years as an ER nurse and experienced different strange maladies and situations. Maybe you won your junior high spelling bee, and still remember the stress of competition and the hours of practicing you endured. It could be you had an old boss with some strange quirks, and that potentially makes him a great character. It can be something that lasted years, or a single stand alone event.

Historical Figures

Historical figures have a long well developed story already. You can take events from their life and transform them into a story. Maybe you read about a train trip that Marilyn Monroe had, and use that as a basis for a unique love story. Where do you think the idea for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” came from? The story came about by combining factual events that occurred in Lincoln’s life, and then the author of the novel then added vampires and other fictional events.

Morals

Sometimes a single sentence is enough to start the creative juices flowing. Morals are lessons learned from a story or idea. Aesop’s Fables are the most famous examples. You may be able to take a moral such as slow and steady wins the race, and create a science fiction story about an overconfident noob that is defeated by the slower, but more experienced veteran. It doesn’t take much to start the spark of inspiration.

Inspiration is Everywhere

While these are common places people look to help get the creative juices going, the truth is that inspiration is everywhere. The color or picture on a sign, the way a waitress serves you food, an argument between an elderly couple, and thousands of other scenarios can serve as idea generators. You see it and suddenly you get a “What if?” in your head. You see the elderly couple arguing and think, “What if the husband had a stroke right now and died?” How would the wife feel? What would she do? How would her life be different? What are they arguing about?

Maybe the waitress that serves your food has a brace on her arm or a hairclip that looks futuristic. What if she got that brace because she has an abusive husband or is involved in an underground fight club? What if that hair clip is actually a communication device, and she’s a time traveler from the future learning about our culture?

They key is to take those questions and craft a story around it. Every story, whether it’s a book or film, starts out with an inspiration and then a “What if?” When ideas hit, write them down, and you are one your way to developing and writing a screenplay.

About Brock Cooper

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