I found this article on a board at http://screenwritersutopia.com
It’sÃ‚Â a bit long, so I skimmed it down to the good parts.
I CAN SEE IT NOW!
The Seven Tests Of A Good Screenplay Idea
By Neill D. Hicks
Somewhere in the churning soup of your creative self, a bubble begins to form. It grows larger and larger: an irritation, an obstinate itch, an insistent demand - an idea! At first, it’s a craggy, bumpy, uneven sort of thing that only a creator could love. But, with a little work, you forge it into an authentic concept suitable as the operating premise for a…? A what? A note pinned to the supermarket bulletin board? A magazine article? A novel? A textbook? A stage play? How about a movie?
Sure, everyone’s writing screenplays these days, and some of those screenplays are selling for big money. Why not yours? Before you plan your Academy Award acceptance speech, though, let’s consider what makes a good movie idea that’s worth spending the next six months to a year fashioning into a screenplay.
Movies Tell A Dramatic Story
It may seem obvious, but keep in mind that the movies we enjoy the most tell a story. A magazine article about how to select fresh fruit is probably not going to become the basis for an exciting film. Neither is an essay on health care. Even a short story about a young girl who waits by the telephone to be invited to her first dance is not the kind of material movies do well. We may be satisfied in a short story to glimpse a slice of life, but in a movie we want the whole pie - and we’ll be unsatisfied if we don’t get it. A good movie has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It tells the narrative of change for a character in a dramatic sequence.
Dramatic is the important word. Movies are dramatic, and drama is about conflict. All good movies are about a character acting against another character or his environment. The main character moves through the story only because he overcomes obstacles. The character may have to use physical force, as in an action-adventure movie, or emotional and verbal force as in a movie like Rain Man or Kramer vs. Kramer, but in either case the character always will have to take direct action in order to overcome the opposition.
The opposition in a movie story comes not only from an antogonist, but from the main character himself. Before he can win, the main character must conquer some fear or shortcoming. In other words, the character must come to grips with his own values.
So, movies are stories about change in the values of a character that is achieved through conflict.
Movies And Novels
Movies are action.
One of the requirements of action is that the character is forced to make difficult choices. Remember that the story is about the character’s change in values, so that character is going to be making some tough moral choices before he can progress in the story. The audience, however, can’t see the decision making process, only the result of the process. A portrayal of the agonies of making a decision is of little interest, while the actions that come from that decision probably will keep viewers entertained and excited.
Movies, in fact, are a poor medium for exploring the inner life of characters.Ã‚Â While both stage and film dramas deal with conflict, stage characters usually talk their way through the dilemma on their way to self-discovery, but film characters must take action against other characters.
Movie Story Structure
Generally, movies don’t ask us to imagine what a character is thinking or feeling, but show us their results of those thoughts and feelings in actions that we can see clearly. The best movie ideas do this by structuring events in ever increasing importance. We don’t want to watch the character make the same decision or go through the same actions over and over again. The result of the character’s actions must lead to a more difficult decision to make, which in turn leads to greater action, and so on until the character solves the problem.
The worst movie ideas? The worst movies don’t tell us a story at all.
Is It A Film?
Let’s get back to that irritating bubble that is swelling up to become an idea. When it finally rises into your consciousness, ask yourself a few questions before you reach for the keyboard:
Is there a clear main character?
Does this main character have a problem to solve?
Is there clear, definite opposition? An antagonist?
Does the resolution of the problem require the character to take action against the antagonist?
Does the resolution of the problem bring the character’s values into question?
Does the story have “air” in it? Does it take place in several locations?
Is the primary thrust of the story emotional rather than intellectual?
If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may have an idea for the next Academy Award winning screenplay!
Copyright 1999 by SCREENTALK. All rights reserved.