Screenwriting -- An Idea is Not a Story

by Danek S. Kaus

Many people believe that a great idea will make a great movie. While it is far better to have a great idea than a lousy one, an idea alone is not enough to make a movie. Simply put, an idea is not a story. When you write a screenplay, you must be able to translate your idea into a Story, with a capital S.

An idea is a man goes to a distant wilderness that is filled with hostile people and wild animals. A story is a cynical Civil War soldier transfers out west to live with the Native Americans and becomes one of them. Eventually, he chooses to help them fight against his own kind. That story is better-known as "Dances with Wolves."

Another version of the same idea is a disabled war veteran travels to a distant planet populated with strange people who belong to another race. The place has flying dragons and dangerous monsters. Through the use of a new scientific development he inhabits a new body. He falls in love with one of the aliens. He becomes a member of her tribe and fights against his former allies to save his adopted world. That story is called "Avatar."

Both stories are based on the same essential idea. Two different movies, more or less.

As a side note, both of these movies follow the template known as the Hero's Journey, or Monomyth, which many of the most popular movies and novels are based upon. You can learn more about it in Joseph Campbell's seminal work "The Hero with A Thousand Faces" and from the great book on screenwriting, "The Writer's Journey," by Christopher Vogler.

The problem with most of the ideas that people come up with is that they are not actually stories. Often people pitch story ideas to some industry pros. They might say, "I've got a great idea for a story, then they relate their great "idea," such as, "A man who is afraid to fly works at an airport. Then someone asks, "What's the story?"

The response is usually a blank look. "Well, I just told you the story."

To which the industry pro is forced to say, "No, you told me an idea. Tell me what the story is. The person with the "great idea" doesn't have an answer.

The trouble is, many people confuse concept with story. In a story, someone wants to achieve some goal but forces, such as other people or events, stand in that person's way. The story is how the person overcomes, or does not overcome, those obstacles. Along the way, the resistance becomes much more intense until the climax, which resolves the issue one way or another. That is a story. If you want to succeed at screenwriting, you must understand the difference between an idea and a story.

About the Author:

Danek S. Kaus is a produced screenwriter with another film in development. Several of his screenplays have been optioned by film production companies by movie production companies. He can help with your screenplay or adapt your book into a movie. He also offers professional script analysis

Practice Makes Perfect: Screenwriting Assignments To Improve Your Writing by Don Macnab-Stark

Practice Makes Perfect: Screenwriting Assignments To Improve Your Writing

Want to get better as a writer? Then consider the use of Screenwriting Assignments. Screenwriting Assignments are practice sessions, where instead of worrying about how a particular scene might fit into your existing or current screenplay, you simply write a scene for the benefit of improving your writing.

If you think about it, it makes sense. People in all walks of life practice their skills to get better - singers, athletes, even doctors - yet writers expect to just sit down and write a script that is a masterpiece.

What Screenwriting Assignments allow you to do is hone your skills without the pressure of worrying directly about quality. With the pressure off, you'll often find that you come up with some great writing - in fact, I've sometimes found that so good is the stuff I do when simply practicing, that it inspires me to develop my "practice" characters into a full length screenplay.

But for now just try this simple assignment before you start your next script - it's a great way to get into your characters' heads:

Start with your character profile (if you don't have a character profile, check out my previous article, "Creating Great Characters for Your Screenplay"), and with their core traits in mind, brainstorm how this character would react to the following situations:

A death in the family.

Falling in love.

Being dumped/divorced.

Being wrongly accused of a crime.

Being stuck in a haunted house.

Going on a road trip.

Getting into an argument with someone stronger than them.

Being on a game show.

For each of these scenarios, take the time to plot out a short scene, focusing on how your character reacts. Then write your favourite two or three scenes.

What is important when doing these is that you start to get a feel for your character. What do they do? What do they say? Do they show their emotions or keep them hidden? Do they have a "tell", something they do when they are hiding their feelings?

Writing just a couple of these scenes should really get you inside the head of your character, give you a deep understanding of how this person ticks. Once you feel you have that, then consider how they would react to the various situations and obstacles they will encounter in your story.

By practicing before you start your script, you will have a much better grasp of your character, and ultimately that will show in the quality of your writing.

About the Author

I am a screenwriter, script doctor and consultant living in England. I have consulted with dozens of writers, helping them to improve and develop their scripts, and have written almost twenty feature scripts, including:

· Long, Cold Winter - Shooting in Sweden, 2011, Greencap Films

· Rabid - Shooting in Michigan, Fall 2010 (Director Brian Lawrence).

For a free screenwriting newsletter packed with more tips, visit me at:

Unleash Your Screenwriting Talent

By Mike Fenward

Every movie ever made, from the Academy Award winners to the box office flops, can trace their origins back to one thing: an idea. Be they inspired by books or constructed in dreams, ideas form the basis of movies, books, television shows, etc. All it takes is someone saying, "I have an idea that would make a great movie!" If you've ever had this thought, you're obviously going to want to know to write a screenplay if you want to make it a reality. There are some simple steps you can follow to set yourself on the path of the screenwriter.

The first thing you need to do is pick up a copy of Final Draft. This is a computer program made specifically for screenwriters. It makes the process much, much easier in that it automatically formats your screenplay, tracks things like characters and setting, and will even give you some basic screenwriting tips. You can certainly write screenplays with any word processor, but Final Draft cuts out a lot of the guesswork. Though the program is expensive, you're going to need it if you ever hope to sell your work. It is considered the industry standard and move producers won't even look at screenplays not in this format. If you can, get it early and practice with it often.

With that out of the way, it's time to start your treatment. This is a document, typically up to six pages but they can be longer, that details your entire film from beginning to end. You will explore the entirety of your story here, from plot twists to character deaths and so on. This will also detail the length of your script and tell you if you're writing a feature film or a short. You're going to use this as your foundation, so keep it basic and don't go overboard. You don't want to add much in the way of dialogue or special effects. Keep it simple.

When you're done and comfortable with your treatment, it's time to begin the real writing process. Stick with your treatment as best you can to avoid getting lost in the story. Don't get excited and start adding "cool" or "exciting" elements where they don't really belong. Keep your dialogue grounded as best you can. You can accomplish this by acting out the scenes in your head and saying the lines as you would say them. Try to keep it from feeling too artificial. Also, keep in mind that the more you add, the more money it'll take to create the screenplay. The budget it something a producer is going to take into consideration, so try and keep it as low as possible. You can accomplish this by avoiding length action or stunt sequences, keeping the locations and characters to a minimum, and cutting out any unnecessary scenes. You also want to make sure you get your screenplay registered with the Writer's Guild of America. This will ensure your work is protected, so make sure you include the WGA number on your cover page.

Now that you're done, read through your script from cover to cover and make sure you're happy with it. Make any changes you need to and get ready to send it to producers. Producers are responsible for getting your movie made, so they're the ones you want to deal with directly. More often than not, producers are going to be working with independent productions. If you did well enough, they might want to pick you up. If they do pick up your script, work with them to get your project completed. Make any necessary rewrites and be prepared to make changes. That being said, don't compromise your vision for the producer's. Stay on top of your script but don't become obsessed with it. If it's not selling, it's time to rewrite it or scrap it for something new.

With time and practice, you'll have the next Academy Award winner in your hands. - 31966

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