If you’re building a race car, you probably don’t want to start by building a boat. That may seem like common sense, but that type of flawed thinking is exactly how too many writers go about creating a story to write about.
Before you write a story, ask yourself why anyone should care? If you can’t find a reason for someone to care, then your story idea is going to face an uphill battle.
A writer once told me that his story was about a family that wins the lottery. That’s it. While winning the lottery is unusual, there’s nothing that makes this story idea grab your attention and make you want to say, “Hey, let’s go to the theater and see that!”
Another writer told me her idea for a story was about two people in love but not sure they should get married. Again, this is a decent start, but what could give this idea a “Wow” factor? If the two people in love come from warring factions, then you have “West Side Story.” If the two people in love are business rivals, then you have “You’ve Got Mail.” If the two people in love are men living in a time when gay relationships need to be hidden, then you have “Brokeback Mountain.”
When creating an idea, find what makes it special. Many times a unique idea can be enough to get a screenplay started. “Sex Tape” was about a couple who film a sex tape that accidentally gets leaked on the Internet. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the script got, which got turned into a mediocre movie.
That shows that you must come up with an idea that grabs someone’s attention. In the South Korean comedy, “Save the Green Planet,” a man is convinced that aliens are hiding among society, disguised as human beings. Since this story is a comedy, the man is actually 100% correct and manages to capture an alien, but everyone thinks the man is crazy even though he’s actually completely accurate.
Look at every movie made, both the good and bad ones, and you’ll see that even the bad movies started with a good idea. “The 355” is about the top female spies in the world working together as a team. “Mortal Engines” is about a dystopian future where cities roam around on wheels and chase smaller cities for their resources.
These are all interesting ideas, but an interesting idea is just the first step. You still have to execute on that good idea, and this is where so many screenplays fall apart.
Still, if you start with a good idea, you at least have a solid foundation. If you start with a vague or boring idea, you’ll be sunk before you can even get started. So come up with a great idea that can captivate someone’s attention. Do that and you’ll have the first step to writing a great screenplay.