Some of the greatest works of art were inspired by intense emotion. When Ray Bradbury wrote his famous novel “Fahrenheit 451,” he did so in reaction to the McCarthy communist witch hunts he saw in the American government during the 50’s that were trying to destroy ideas they deemed were un-American. If you’re writing a screenplay, ask yourself what’s the intense emotion behind your reason for writing that particular story?
Chances are good you have multiple story ideas, so which one should you write first? What many Hollywood people do is try to guess the story idea that will be most marketable. While that sometimes works, it often creates meek and timid screenplays that have a good idea, but poor execution. Think of any bad sequel like “Miss Congeniality 2,” “Terminator 3,” or “Ghostbusters 2.” While the original movies were based on a great story, the sequels are too often based on the idea of making more money first and foremost, and milking the popularity of the original movie
Think of the original “Miss Congeniality,” “Terminator/Terminator 2,” and “Ghostbusters.” The screenwriters may have thought it was a great story idea to make money, but they probably also had fun writing the story because they had an emotional reason to do so. You can see this particularly in “Terminator 2” with its theme of humanity destroying itself. When movies create an emotional experience in the audience, they likely started by creating an emotional experience in the screenwriter first.
Do you think “Thelma and Louise” was written solely to make money? Or do you think it started with an emotional feeling that the screenwriter wanted to convey to others?
Start with an intense emotional feeling and whichever story idea generates the most emotional fire in your gut, that’s the story you should start writing first. That emotional fire will inspire you to get started and keep going. If you get discouraged, remember what emotional feeling you felt when you first came up with your story idea, then use that feeling to motivate you to keep going.
If you start a story with an intense emotional feeling, your writing can’t help but reflect that same emotional experience, and experiencing emotions is why people enjoy stories in the first place whether it’s horror, comedy, drama, or action. Make it emotional.
When you think of it, all great art is nothing more than frozen emotion. Get that feeling and that’s what can turn your story idea into a great screenplay.