Steal This Plot

Trying to figure out a plot for your screenplay can be difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. Just steal a plot from another writer, preferably someone who has been dead for so long that their estate probably won’t have a staff of lawyers on retainer who can sue your butt off.

One problem with screenwriters is that they make life harder than it needs to be. Many novice screenwriters believe that the only way to succeed is to come up with an original story that ‘s never been told before.


First of all, there are no original stories. “West Side Story” is really “Romeo and Juliet” updated to modern times. On a more basic level, “Romeo and Juliet” is just a variation of the boy meets girl story. The story of an underdog achieving a victory over a much stronger opponent is the basic story behind “Rocky,” “Star Wars,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and dozens of other movies that have come and gone over the years. You don’t have to create an original story to succeed. What you need to do is create an original way of telling the same old story.

“The Shining” is about a bunch of people trapped in a hotel haunted by ghosts. “Alien” is about a bunch of people trapped in a spaceship with a rampaging monster on the loose. Same story, but different characters, setting, and ways of telling that same story.

Every time a movie succeeds, the studios rush a bunch of copycat films to exploit that genre. “Die Hard” was about a man trapped and outnumbered in a skyscraper. “Under Siege” was about a man trapped and outnumbers on a battleship. Nobody really cares if they see the same story over and over again. What people care about is seeing a new variation of that story told in a uniquely interesting way.

That’s where you come in as a screenwriter. Nobody can write exactly like you. More importantly, nobody has the same ideas as you or the same way of telling a story as you. Woody Allen would have had a whole different way of writing the script of “Frost/Nixon” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons” than someone like William Goldman or Stanley Kuprick. Being a screenwriter isn’t about telling a story in a unique way, but telling a story in a way that only you can tell it.

That’s what will make you successful as a screenwriter. Don’t copy everyone else. Copy the basic plot and flesh it out with your unique point of view. That will create an original story, even if we’ve heard your story before. If you can entertain us with a different setting, characters, and point of view, people will be happy to line up and watch your movie over and over again.

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