We all know that great writing comes from great rewriting. And that second acts are where the real writers live. All that’s true. So very true. But it’s also true that we can all be guilty of nursing a labor of love script to death. At some point, you just have to let go and move on.
It doesn’t matter how brilliantly you execute a marginal idea. If you don’t begin with a concept that intrigues or excites your pitch listeners, script readers or trailer viewers, today's market is simply too insanely over-saturated with competition for a weak project to get noticed above the din.
Start A New Script
Don’t begrudge all those hours you invested on "that" script (and we all have one!). Every hour or page you write empowers you to write better, faster, smarter. KEEP WRITING. Put in the “ten thousand hours of practice” that Malcolm Gladwell, in his third great book, Outliers, identified as “the magic number of greatness.”
One of the best ways I know to access the genius of your mind, the richness of your memories, sensory life experiences and unique expertise is to mind map.
Capturing the chaos of your creativity via a visual representation does a great many things. One: it stops time. It allows you to remember (or barf out) the never-ending slew of stream of consciousness fragments that course under your imaginative skin. Two: it gives you a chance to breathe. It holds all these fleeting gems in a malleable state allowing you to sculpt and manipulate them. And three: it allows you to cherry pick and create a collision of concepts, to play with the building blocks of your unique, personal take on life contrasted with the universal and timeless gems to achieve that elusive but precious “familiar but new” mash-up.
Remember Mad Libs from when we were kids? You'd replace the nouns, verbs and adjectives and adverbs? I had an English teacher once who made us play Mad Libs with arguably one of the longest, most sprawling sentences in English literature (from William Faulkner's brilliant short story, A Rose for Emily) - an exercise I (clearly) never forgot. Play these word games with loglines from your favorite films or genre comps. Play concentration with magazine clippings of characters, worlds, settings, vocations. Themeplay a vision board collage. Select input from your life that inspires or intrigues you.
What is your character’s absolute worst fear? How could that coming true be the best thing that ever happened to her? Opposites attract – but they also repel. What’s the Yin and Yang of why your Protagonist must dance with this specific Antagonist? What do they have to learn from one another? What do we have to learn from vicariously parrying with them? What situation would the absolute worst (or best?) for your TV ensemble that promises to deliver drama or comedy week after week? What epic image system or minute actors' business best brings your theme to life?
Enlarge, study and even print out the above mind map as a great starting place. Journal. Take an Artist’s Date. Refill your inner well. Work your ideas backwards and forwards. Doodle. Walk. Sit in silence and just think. Braid and repeat.
Every hour of brainstorming can save 5 hours of writing
Imagine what five hours of brainstorming would save in writing down rabbit holes. Or a week. Play with the the circulatory system of your inner psyche. Mine your fears, dreams and themes. The brilliant William Martell, a treasured member of the Script Magazine blogging tribe, wrote a great blog about four years ago on High Concept Generation Script Secrets and offered 5 Tips to Turn Your Script Into a High Concept Idea that are both worth checking out. I, myself, teach classes for The Writers Store's Screenwriters University on Creating High Concept Ideas (and I try to do the homework anew, too, each class to keep my own writing chops honed and current).
We’ve all heard a million times that “ideas are a dime a dozen.” I know where that comes from but the truth is: it’s simply not true.
Story Is Everything
Yes, execution is critical.
Yes, collaboration is key.
But we all know a brilliant idea when we hear one – and everyone can run with one.
Make your career off one.
Why not today? Why not right now? Go back to the drawing board and take a running start at something fresh and new? It might not only raise the bar on the quality of the scripts you have in your inventory - but you'll inevitably enrich the caliber of your craft for any opportunity that you may be able to create.
Keep Writing: the world needs your stories.
- More articles by Heather Hale
- Writer's Edge: The Best High Concept Idea Ever
- FREE High Concept Checklist Download
Get advice from screenwriter Scott Myers in his on-demand webinar
Story Concepts that Sell