The Craft of Screenwriting: Story Ideas

In our quest to write a great screenplay we need to find a great idea for a story.

Story ideas can come from anywhere. Your own personal experience, ripped from the headlines, your unique spin on an old plot, like Romeo and Juliet or even just an idea that pops into your head. Not all ideas you may come up with will turn out to make a good movie. The real task is to come up with a great idea that is fresh, unique, entertaining and interesting.

“A king dies” is not a story. It is a setup of a story, but not a story. If you add in how he dies and why or who killed him, then you now have the ingredients to a story.

So how do you create a great story idea? First you must think of your story in basic way: An interesting character is presented with a dilemma and must struggle to create a satisfying resolution. You will notice that this fits classic 3 Act Structure. You can also look at it as Set Up, Complications and Resolution. In the sentence above, I wrote “An Interesting Character”, while it is possible to have a story about a boring main character, it doesn’t help your story and increases the odds that the entire story will be boring. The main character can start out a little boring, but must grow and change throughout the story. The audience wants to connect with an exciting and compelling main character who does interesting and exciting things in your story.
I want to point out that the resolution to your story must be satisfying. I’m not saying that the story has to have a happy ending, but the story must conclude with a resolution that satisfies the wants and desires of your characters [for good or bad] and tie up the plot elements in a logical way that stays true to how the story was presented in the previous acts. You can’t have the story end with something not at least hinted at earlier in the story or so out of character to have the audience thinking that couldn’t happen. You cannot leave plot threads hanging at the end of the story. Tie loose ends up before the credits roll. An unsatisfying ending can ruin an otherwise great movie.

Most people have at least one story idea bouncing around in their heads and they want to get idea out and onto paper or the silver screen. If you do have a story already, then you need to make sure that the story is interesting enough for other people to want to read it or watch. We will explore how to create compelling characters, exciting scenes and plots a little later, but for now just think about what makes your story unique. How is your story different? How are your characters compelling and seem real? What emotions do you want the audience to feel?

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