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Idea Generators

Storytellers get their ideas from various sources. Some dream them up as wish fulfillment. Others feel compelled to write about their own experiences. Some gain ideas from the news reports, magazines, other movies, books, etc.

But how do you get started?

  • Ask yourself, “What moves you emotionally? Passionately. What are the beliefs and values you live by? What do you feel “called” to talk about?You’re going to spend a great deal of time pouring over your script, considering the dramatic possibilities of every scene, struggling with both private and public meanings, exerting a Matrix-powering amount of brain power, not to mention the hours lost from family, friends, other work, paying taxes, random Internet surfing — you better LIKE this story!It better be a passion or it’s wasted — don’t make me go through the list again.
  • Ask yourself: “What do you go to movies to see? What emotion do you want to feel when you leave the theater? What do you want the audience to feel? What kinds of things cause that emotion? Could you describe some ultimate moment (Act III climax) that exhibits that emotion?Knowing the kind of ending you want will help you generate ideas based on your chosen emotion and connects it to your belief system.
  • Watch a LOT of films. Find the ones you connect with and ask, “What makes them work?” It’s not enough to say, “I liked it. It moved me.” HOW did it move you? What were the building blocks, the set-ups that paid off that caused the emotion you left the theater savoring?
  • Capture an image in your head of a moment, an unforgettable moment – an essential turning point in your life or anyone’s life.Now ask yourself: “Who is BEST able to cope in this situation? The man or woman to whom this moment is the height of their existence.Conversely, who is WORST able to cope in this situation? The man or woman to whom this moment represents their great fear, played out.

    Which of the two (best or worst) would make a better story? Now we’re developing ideas about character and conflict. Which (best or worst) is the protagonist or antagonist? What conflicts can bring about this result?

    What’s the best or worst place for this to occur? Or the one that creates the greatest conflict, or perhaps the coolest place or most embarrassing place ever for this moment to occur. Now we’re establishing an arena for your story. Brainstorm about it.


Once you have a handle on the kind of thing you want to do – the genre, the character, the essential question (see also: Essential Question page), you can brainstorm:

  • What kinds of characters would help and hinder my protagonist toward his goal? This helps establish the other characters in the story.NOTE: in a comedy, the protagonist creates all other characters in his world, according to how they interact with his comic goal and comic weakness.
  • How far does my THEME extend? (see also: Theme page) Say, if your story’s theme is, “Pride goeth before the fall”, how does your protagonist’s pride effect his view of himself? How does it effect his relationship with his mother? His wife? His boss? His subordinates? How is pride exhibited in your story’s arena?WARNING: Don’t get preachy, just see how the theme of your story creates other possibilities.


This is invaluable to developing ideas for your story. Consider not just the specific arena, or occupation, but consider tangents. Say, your protagonist is a computer hacker. You have to research hacking, phreaking and the legal cases that involve both. You must research their values, ideas of technological freedom and what not. But also ask, “What games do they like to play? What websites to they frequent? What snacks, even?” This is the tactic to end all writer’s block! It gets you mulling over your dramatic situation completely.

Consider the marketability of your idea. Don’t ask what Hollywood’s buying this year because you can’t hit that moving target, but consider the fact that historical dramas and fantasies are a hard sell if they don’t have a built-in audience. Stories about hackers are hard because technology changes fast and most tech-scripts fail because clicking on a keyboard furiously isn’t a substitute for car chases.

Know the industry and act accordingly. Know thyself, and write something of passion that makes audience leave the theater feeling… well, the way you want them to.

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