There are various ways of developing great ideas for screenplays – one of my favorites, and one I have often used with my students, uses visual images as a source of inspiration.
Film is primarily a visual medium, and we are constantly assailed by visual images – it is estimated that humans get around 80% of their sensory input visually – but screenwriting, by its very name, uses the medium of words to tell stories. But if your original idea, the very seed of the story you are telling, comes from an image, it can help you to keep in touch with the visual as you write your script.
This technique is simple – all you need are a stack of old magazines and a pair of scissors. Then simply start looking for images that catch your eye – they can be anything, photographs or animation, an advert, a picture of a celebrity, a cartoon, anything that interests you.
While you do this, let your mind wander, not worrying at this point whether this image immediately gives you a story idea – that can come later. At this point all that matters is that the image interests you.
Go through several magazines and cut out a few images so that you have a choice. Now take each picture and ask yourself a few simple questions that will allow a potential story to emerge. The sorts of questions that you ask can include:
•Is there a main character for your story in the picture? If so, who is this person? What do you know about them?
•Where are they? Different locations can in and of themselves start your creative process flowing.
•Why are they there? Are they there through choice? Or do they have to be there?
•How do they feel? What are their emotions?
•Are there other people with them? If so, what are the relationships?
•What happens next? This is great question to ask when looking at images. Images are moments frozen in time – our job as screenwriters is to uncover the story, decide what happened to bring them to this point, and where the story develops from here.
The simple process of asking these types of story questions will allow you to gradually discover the hidden story behind the picture.
As you do this you will find that some stories come alive for you, others are dead ends. That’s OK, simply doing this on a regular basis will unlock your creative processes, and you’ll find some story ideas emerge that just demand to be developed into a full length script. Then all you have to do is write it!
I am a screenwriter, script doctor and consultant living in England. I specialize in high concept comedies and thrillers. I have consulted with dozens of writers in the past five years, helping them to improve and develop their scripts, and have written almost twenty feature scripts, including: Long, Cold Winter – Due to be shot in Sweden in 2011, Rabid – Planet Four Films, shooting in Michigan, Fall 2010 (Director Brian Lawrence). To sign up for my free screenwriting newsletter packed with tips and ideas, visit my website.