Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ideas – From the transient back brain to the rational front brain

Concept testing is the last of the last three methods I want to mention.  In short, concept testing is whereby you test out your concept statements by gauging people’s reactions. Just remember that almost every good concept starts off with some initial skepticism so do not let that stop you; but, be malleable enough to change you idea as you mention it to your friends, your relatives, even the people in line at Starbucks.  Though the concept may be obvious to you, to the listener your idea is filtered through their own beliefs, experiences and emotions.  Also, as most movie producers are not the brightest individuals in the world making your idea concise and understandable by anyone you meet will help.  Think about ideas like this-they have to meet the Uncle George Rule.  That is, if Uncle George from Palestine (that is pronounced Pal – is – steen), Indiana can understand the story idea than most producers, or agents, or directors, will also.

Just do not get caught up in a cycle of constantly mutating or continually defending your idea.  Take people’s suggestions and move on.  If you like the suggestion, keep it.  If you do not like the suggestion, thank the person and move on.  Debating the issue is not worth the time or effort.

There are three actions you should take about developing ideas:

  • Develop Your Own Style
  • Keep the Idea Clear and Concise
  • Have Emphasis and Associations

There is one more thing about idea development that you, as a writer, need to remember.  The idea is not a macguffin.  What is a macguffin?  A macguffin (sometimes written mcguffin) is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction.”  The specific nature of the macguffin is not important to the plot.  The macguffin can be ambiguous, completely undefined, generic, or left open to interpretation.

A macguffin is common in films, particularly science fiction films.  The macguffin can be the zombie, or the spaceship, or the raygun, or the cross-eyed, double-tailed watchamacallit.  Ideas, and by derivation plots, are about people, not things.  To have a plot that has a spaceship doing this and doing that makes your entire story about the macguffin, not the people.  People hearing your idea do not want to hear about how you move the interrossitor control 18 degrees to the left.  They want to hear about what people emotionally do.

The bottom line here is always, always, always write your ideas about people and what they do with each other not how they respond to your clever tool that you thought moves the story along.  Bogie did not care about whether the Maltese Falcon was a statue or a blue-footed boobie.  He was trying to find out who killed his partner and set him up.  CLOVERFIELD was not about the monster, the movie was about the people and their struggles.

Below are some sample ideas:

Earth is invaded and nearly destroyed by a super-powerful alien force, but saved by a simple man and his love for his children.

A circus clown has a mid-life crisis and decides to become a mailman.

A six-year-old American boy is separated from his parents and finds himself lost in post-war Japan.

An autistic gardener is put out on the street when his boss dies, but manages to survive by making friends and impressing people with his “wisdom”.

A 20-year-old suicidal boy falls in love with an 80-year-old woman who loves life.

A group of rag-tag losers with various incredible kung fu abilities come together to form a ludicrous-but-incredible soccer team.

A Danish prince is very unhappy when his mother decides to marry the brother of her murdered husband, especially since uncle is the guy who did the murdering.

A beautiful princess runs away and hides with a bunch of extra-short guys when her jealous stepmother tries to kill her.

A brave toaster tries to save his fellow appliances from being destroyed when somebody else takes over the store.

Attribute – Love of Reading

Good writers all love to read.  They read voraciously, anything they could get their hands on: adventure stories, science fiction, mysteries, classics, comic books.  Really good writers have vast libraries, full collections from Shakespeare volumes to back issues of "Swamp Thing."  Good writers can't pass a bookstore without going inside.  Good screenwriters read screenplays.  Lot’s of screenplays.

Why are you reading this?  Go write!

John still practices screenwriting in King County, WA along with a small rat dog, a mortgage, and a great view of the valley.

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