Column D: Starting Your Script – Somebody Wants Something

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starting your script

In this post, I want to continue our discussion of the starting point of your script – the idea.

In a previous post, I talked about how to measure the strength of your idea. Namely, should you invest the time and effort to pursue that idea and turn it into a screenplay.

Now I want to talk about how to think of and frame that idea so as to attract the attention of a studio and, by extension, an audience.

In doing so, I want to emphasize that I am talking about a commercial idea. One that will be told in three acts, following the classic myth structure. If you want to write the next Source Code, by all means do so. I’ll be first in line to see it. Source Code was one of my favorite films of 2011. But in this post I’m limiting the evaluation of the idea to classic three act stories.

When you come up with your idea, see if you can frame it so that it fits into this paradigm:

“Somebody wants something badly and goes after it against great odds.”

That is a simple description of what all great three-act stories have in common.

Eleven words that sum it up nicely.

Think about it.

“Somebody.” A single main character (protagonist). As in the classic myth “hero.”

“Wants something.” Has a desire.

“Badly.” A strong desire.

“And goes after it.” Takes action.

“Against great odds.” Meets resistance. Big time.

It also contains all three acts.

Act 1: “Somebody wants something badly.” The setup

Act 2: “and goes after it against great odds.” Conflict.

Act 3: implied. They either get it or not. Resolution

It has all that you need for a classic myth story:

Person.
Desire.
Thing.
Urgency.
Action.
Conflict.

Whatever your idea, you would be best served if you can express it along the lines of that paradigm. Once you can do so, that then becomes your logline.

To help you with this, take some of the bigger grossing three act films of the past few years and see if you can express their “idea” in that fashion.

Think The King’s Speech. Think True Grit. Think any of the Toy Story films. Animated films especially follow this expression of the idea. (Think Up. Or Finding Nemo.)

Most writers tend to come up with ideas that are situational. For example, an asteroid is racing toward earth and it must be destroyed before civilization is wiped out. However, there must be a main character who is chosen to complete the difficult task.

Go back and look at Armageddon and see if you can frame the idea by using Bruce Willis’ character in the logline. (Which you should easily be able to do. Probably why Armageddon did better than Deep Impact which had the same idea behind it.)

If your idea is similarly situational, you then must decide upon and develop your main character so that you can express it to fit the paradigm. Once you can comfortably do so, you will be on your way to writing a more commercially viable screenplay.

In other words, think “somebody” at the start.

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