If you want to write a script then you’re going to need a story. Indeed a scriptwriter without a story is like a body without a soul. First and foremost a scriptwriter has to actively seek story ideas. You can’t sit back and go about your life expecting a thunderbolt of inspiration. It simply won’t happen.
There’s a few traits which people let hold them back from thinking up ideas and developing them into stories. Laziness, fear and perfectionism. As you read those words you will probably recognise at least one or more of them that is part of your character. These can all be defeated though by creating a routine or period of time each day that you devote to creating ideas and/or writing. Just an hour or two a day, say 7pm to 9pm, will result in a lot of productive work being done. Don’t think about thinking, just think!
Two of the best sources for story ideas are newspapers and magazines, particularly the human interest articles. I recently read a small piece in a newspaper about a woman who suffered through a terrible depression she hadn’t been allowed into brother’s funeral after he had died from a kidney illness. The twist being that she was the only person they’d found as a suitable kidney donor but she had backed out because she was a single mother and afraid of what would happen to her children if she’d died during the procedure.
The above article was only given a couple of columns in the newspaper but it provides a terrific skeleton for a great screenplay. A scriptwriter needs to be able to sift through the turgid pieces to find the nuggets of gold scattered throughout. It’s well documented that David Bowie used to take clippings of headlines or phrases he found interesting in newspapers and turn them into ideas for songs.
People go to the movies to see characters they can relate to accomplish things that they can only dream about. Rocky Balboa was the stumblebum with a heart of gold who went on to challenge for (and in the second sequel successfully win) the boxing heavyweight championship. With it came the fame, fortune and glory we all wish for ourselves.
Scriptwriters need to find a story core and a main character that the common person can relate to. Think about what drives you, what you fear and how you deal with pressure. It is your goal as a scriptwriter to take the audience on a journey through the character’s emotions and make them feel what the character feels. A good script/movie shares elements with a good rollercoaster. There are ups and downs and simulated emotions (you feel momentary fear on a rollercoaster but you know realistically you are perfectly safe).
Two of the key elements for any story are conflict and crisis. In the example I provided in the third paragraph the crisis is the illness and eventual death of the man with the kidney illness. Think about the conflict, big and small, this would create. This man was well within his right to be in a foul mood with just about everyone, being at death’s door, yet at the same time he was probably glad to have the opportunity to say and do the all the important things he wanted to do before he died.
At the same time his sister had an extremely tough decision. She had to choose whether or not to have an operation to remove a kidney which would shorten her life expectancy, potentially leave her in discomfort for the rest of her life and at worst kill her or watch as her brother died. In between these two were the woman’s children who faced losing an uncle and/or mother and the man’s wife who was watching and nursing her dying husband. If that isn’t an incredible family conflict I don’t know what is, and it makes for great drama.
When you find a story like this it is normally advisable to change a few elements for a couple of reasons. One being that you don’t have to purchase rights for the story and another being that you can change details to heighten drama and suspense and “tighten up” the story.
I read the newspaper each day and everyday I find a story or two I think could be worked into a good script. Of course as you research, plot and plan some stories fall apart but others stand out as strong, believable and truly fascinating.
Forgetting the outside world you can look closer to home for your scriptwriting inspiration. Think about your family, friends, neighbours or even yourself. There’s a good chance that some sort of tragedy or incredulous event has happened within that circle. While you certainly never wish these things on someone you know there is an advantage of finding a story this way over newspapers or magazines. You will have seen first hand how the crisis effected people and how they dealt with it. As long as you do so in a tactful manner these people will be more than happy to open up their hearts to you if you mention that you’d like to write a screenplay based on the situation.
That’s exactly what good scriptwriting is original stories, based on real life situations told from a particular point of view.