Monday, December 19, 2011

Think twice

At the beginning stages of developing a spec, your job is THINKING.

One of the things I've learned throughout the years, and occasionally need reminding about, is that you have to reject your first one, two, three, maybe four ideas. Keep working the story until you get the most creative possible series of events.

Need a maguffin? A character's on the run from the bad guys. What object do they want from him? Quick, think of something.

Was your first thought:

-A microchip/flash drive with sensitive government secrets?
-Photos of a politician in bed with a prostitute?
-A briefcase full of cash/drugs?

Too cliche, all of them. Think again.

Your first instinct is usually going to be everybody else's first instinct. Over time I have learned to get that out of the way until I get to something that will surprise the audience.

I was working on picking a maguffin yesterday, and the wise Bill Martell reminded me to use the story's theme to find it. What's this story about? Now what kind of object could lead us back there?

So I thought of something, then rejected it and thought of something else. Then I slept on it, woke up this morning, and had my answer.

It took me almost an entire day of thinking up ideas and rejecting them to get to one I think is pretty great. If you leap on your first idea and run with it, you'll end up writing a mediocre script when you could have written a great one.


  1. I'll take that thought a little further. I'd say that the passage of time...a week, month or whatever...can be as good as rewriting over and over again.

    Because of our day to day experiences, we are constantly evolving. And so are our ideas...

  2. Great post.

    In one of my early scripts, the bad guys were after a computer disk...

    I would add that using present day technology in your script can be risky. (ie: What's a computer disk?)

  3. Both good additions, guys.

  4. Alan Coren, noted British humourist and editor of Punch, said much the same thing. From his obituary in The Telegraph:

    His two children, Giles and Victoria followed him in to journalism and to Giles, he once imparted what he believed was the secret of his success.

    “When I was about 11 and doing creative writing at school,” Giles recalled, “I would always go to my dad and say, 'What shall I write?’.

    “He would always say, 'Whatever the first thing is that comes into your head, don’t write that because that’s what everyone will write. When the second idea comes into your head, don’t write that either because that’s what the bright kids will write. Wait for the third idea, because that’s the one that only you will do”.


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