So you’ve watched countless movies over your lifetime and now you reckon it’s time to get started on your very own screenplay. Around fifty thousand screenplays get registered with the Writer’s Guild of America every year. Yours is going to need to stand out if you’re going to get it noticed, and one of the most important and effective ways to achieve that is to write something truly inspired. That means not copying others’ work and finding your own voice and niche. Here’s how to find that inspiration.
Look for unusual sources
While turning your own life story into a screenplay is perfectly valid if you’ve had an exciting life, it’s not the only way to find inspiration, so don’t fret if you’ve lived a perfectly ordinary existence (as most of us have). All you need to do is use your imagination. Spirituality is a great place to look; why not brush up on your Rider-Waite tarot? Alternately, you could look to little-used mythologies or ancient belief systems to incorporate into a fantasy script.
Just start writing
Freewriting has a lot of proven benefits for any writer and nowhere is this truer than in screenwriting. When you’re sitting there staring at a blank screen – or a blank page, if you’re old-school – the best solution for that problem is simply to start writing. Don’t worry if what you’re putting down isn’t any good, because that’s not the point; flexing your writing muscles and learning to create even when you’re not feeling inspired are both two very important skills.
Examine your life
Some say that there are only seven stories in the world. Whether you agree with this or not, there’s no doubt that you’ll need to inject your story with a little of your own personality if you want to see it succeed. You don’t need to write a screenplay based entirely on your life; you can simply slip in characters or situations that you’ve encountered and fictionalize them. Either way, you definitely need to put a little of your life into your script.
Just as you shouldn’t wait for inspiration to simply strike you, it’s also not a good idea to wait until you get home to jot down that incredible idea. Make sure to carry writing equipment with you when you’re out and about. The lightning bolt of inspiration is a flighty one, and if you don’t immediately capitalize on it then you may forget it when the time comes to write. Naturally, you should use your discretion when it comes to social situations, but don’t wait too long to get your idea on paper (or on-screen).
The modern world is absolutely chock-full of distractions. Whether it’s breaking news stories on your smartphone or friends asking you to tag along to social events, you can easily be distracted from your writing and lose your thread of inspiration. Rather than trying to force yourself to stay focused constantly, allow yourself a couple of distractions, but dictate what they are beforehand. For example, you might say that after half an hour of writing, you can watch a single episode of a show on Netflix.
Don’t worry about stealing
Obviously, we’re not saying that you should go out there and shamelessly appropriate the work of others. What we are saying, however, is that you shouldn’t worry about being inspired by other stories. Every story is an amalgam of its writer’s influences and what they enjoy in fiction. If your screenplay looks a little derivative, don’t worry – there’ll be time to hash that out when you write a second draft and edit. For now, simply get your ideas down.
If the ideas aren’t flowing, it might be because you haven’t left the house and enjoyed a good walk. Exercise significantly improves creative flow for many reasons; it releases endorphins, which lift your mood, but it can also allow you to see things you wouldn’t see if you simply remained indoors. Getting regular exercise is an incredible way to boost your creativity, and the best part about it is that it’s completely and utterly free. There’s no excuse not to get out and get moving!
Do your research
Let’s say that you’ve had an idea, but you’re not sure how much mileage there is in it. There’s absolutely no harm in heading online and doing a little research. You’d be amazed at what kind of details you can turn up, especially if your screenplay is set during a particular period of history. You can, of course, take some slight liberties with history if you need to, as well. Research can give your story a much more clearly-defined and interesting shape, so get Googling.
Take advice from fellow writers
It’s a very good idea for screenwriters to network with one another. Again, don’t simply pillage your fellow screenwriters’ ideas; that’s poor form at best and rampant plagiarism at worst. Instead, talk to them about their process. How do they manage to find inspiration to do what they do? Is there anything you can learn about your own process from them? Talking to fellow writers opens up a lot more avenues for you and the ways in which you can construct your own screenplays.