Recently I met this knucklehead who wanted me to write a treatment for his “great idea for a movie”. He explained that it was based on recent world history that involved a family member of his and that the story was so incredible “it practically writes itself!”
As he proceeded to go in depth about the details, I had to ask repeatedly what the actual story was. While the facts were interesting, there was no apparent story that stood out as an obvious throughline for a movie. Eyes glazed over, he ignored the question and continued to expound on this greatness of his movie idea. Needless to say, this guy had no clue how to tell a story, what constitutes a story and what, from his story, would actually be important enough to pull out and create a compelling screenplay or movie. He was too entranced by his “great idea”.
Anyone who says “it practically writes itself” to a writer, is A) clueless B) insulting and C) way overestimating the value of their “idea”. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone thinks they’ve got an idea for a great movie but it’s all in the execution.
No writer ever says “it practically writes itself” because we know it doesn’t. Writing is hard work followed by the hellish realization that what you wrote sucks which is in turn followed by additional hard work rewriting and the cycle more or less goes on from there.
So what can you do to take the great idea you have and make it easier to actually write?
- KNOW YOUR ENDING – Most writers can come up with an awesome first few pages that introduce the story and set the table for what might be a great script but if you don’t know how it is going to end you might have a problem. John August suggests that if you have more than one idea for a movie you pick the one whose ending you know and write that one. He says your chances of finishing it are much greater and I agree.
- BEAT SHEET/SEQUENCE – Whatever technique you like to use is fine but you really should invest in some basic connect the dots to give yourself direction. Aimless writing is frustrating. Remember, anyone can write a first act but the second act is what separates the amateurs from the pros. Most people quit by page 50 because they don’t know where they’re going.
- OUTLINE – I know. I hate doing them too but every single script that I have done a thorough outline of has been finished. Doesn’t mean I always stay loyal to the outline but here is where you will see if you have a movie or not. If you do an outline you increase the odds of completing the script and it being good.
Have some additional tips to make things easier on writers as they make their way through a first draft? Email, comment or tweet us. We always love clever ideas that will make us all better.
Dane Reade is an admitted knucklehead, writer, producer, director, actor, storyteller and managing editor of The Tiny Protagonist. You can connect with him on twitter @TheUrbanHobo or via @TinyProtagonist