How do you know an idea is going to be a good one?
I’ve been struggling with this all summer. I’ll think of a great premise for a screenplay, write the logline (this is usually the first thing I do), then a small paragraph that sums it up, then I’ll outline/treatment.
I was taught differently, but for me, an outline is pretty much writing the major plot points I need to hit: act turning points, midpoint, climax, resolution, and a few others in between. That’s a pretty simple explanation. In a treatment, I take those 10 or so points and expand them to 30-40 in a Word document. This is a variation of a trick I picked up from the late Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat! He used index cards, but it’s the same thing.
That was a bit of a tangent. Back to ideas. I have a 10 or 11 page document filled with ideas, ranging from a word to a logline to several beats. Ten pages! Two of those ideas were turned into what I think are pretty good screenplays. The rest are just sitting there. I obviously think they are decent enough ideas or I wouldn’t have written them down in the first place. The problem is that that’s all they are: just ideas.
Very few of them contain within them enough depth to fill out 110 pages. On more than one occasion, I’ve written 30-40 pages of a script over a couple days and then realized I’ve got nowhere to go. That’s a horrible feeling. Chalk it up to rushing the final product and not spending enough time outlining it. I highly recommend taking your time in this stage. I’d love to pound out a script a week, because surely one of those will have to be worth half a million dollars. Right?
It’s been said a million times, but it’s rung true in my case. My last two scripts have been all about writing what I know. What were they? One involved music and the other involved sports. I’ve been a musician since age 4 and played sports since age 5. It’s been several years since. I know both very well, so that’s what I wrote.
Surely, there’s got to be something else I know well. Food? Hmm…
How do you know when you’ve got an idea you’re going to run with?