by Lew Ritter
One of the most asked questions that most new writers ask is ” Where do you get ideas for your scripts?” The answer is simple, but often elusive. They come from out of the blue. Ideas are all around us like air. The important thing is to be aware of them.
First you add : READING
I wanted to write a police procedural spec script. Where would I get the ideas? Every city has a tabloid newspaper like the New York Daily News or New York Post. Scanning these tabloids can provide dozens of juicy conflict situations that are fodder for a script. An Iraq War veteran not getting appropriate care from his local V.A hospital. A politician going to jail for embezzling money. A neighbor who was abducted as a child and now has reunited with loved ones. Any situation where people are in conflict can be the basis for a story.
Stir in : OBSERVATION
Sometimes just being aware of a situation can provide the start of a story. You are rushing to catch a flight. You rush into the terminal and spot a large line waiting to get through security. Maybe you see a person being taken aside by TSA and wonder why. Could this moment be the beginning of a potential terrorist script?
Stir in: THE WHAT IF? GAME
What if such and such happened? Why did it happen, or what would happen after that? According to screenwriting legend Sylvester Stallone watched the fight between a relative unknown fighter and a heavyweight champion. From that observation, he was inspired to create the story of ROCKY. He has used that one situation for five or six sequels and become wealthy and world famous. We should all be that lucky or observant.
A few years ago, I was taking a boat trip aboard the NY Circle Line. It is a pleasure boat that circles the island for three hours. As we cruised around the island, I realized that Manhattan was a very large piece of real estate. It was not all skyscrapers. The Northern tip of the island contains some forested areas. As I stared up at the midtown, I thought, what if someone owned all or even part of the island of Manhattan? They would be wealthy beyond belief. What if someone unearthed an unknown deed to the island?
One day I as I was taking a walk I saw a group of young girls playing an innocent game of hopscotch. What if I’d paid more attention and perhaps heard that what they were saying wasn’t as innocent as what they were doing. What if they were spawns of the devil? Voila, the basis for horror script.
Stir In: EXPERIENCE
A few years ago, I was hired to teach at an elementary school in a tough urban school district. Dealing with many of the students on an on-going basis was downright unnerving. At the end of the year, I was relieved when I was not rehired due to budget cuts, but I was inspired to do what every good writer does. I made it the basis of a script about problem students that I’m still fiddling with as a potential TV pilot.
It’s like a good recipe for a cake. Take the incident and figure out how you can embellish it. Sometimes, the dough will rise and you have a juicy story or script. Other times, the recipe will fall flat and be tasteless. Discover which it is by letting the idea marinate in the back of your mind. Give it the time it needs to become a really fine entree…or a great script.