Recognizing A Solid Script Idea vs A Time-Waster

Yesterday I mentioned I would write about how we often get caught up in the excitement of new ideas, which often leads to overwhelm and not knowing which ideas to pursue.  We think that if we don’t jump on the idea immediately, someone else will beat us to it and then we’ll have wasted months or years of our lives chasing a dead end.  So how can we avoid these time-suckers? 

I have a computer folder full of ideas that are half-completed, first drafts that suck, outlines that went nowhere and several scraps of paper and word documents with countless ideas I’ve never developed beyond a logline.  I’m sure you do too.  There are a lot of ideas I sincerely thought were fantastic and yet once I got down to developing them, I lost interest or it became apparent that it was nothing. 

I can point out a few ways to identify these go-nowhere ideas, but ultimately, it’s up to you to decide where you want to spend your time.  Sometimes it’s worth exploring just to know it will go nowhere.  Sometimes you learn something new about your writing, about a character, a style of writing, a new genre, etc..  Other times, you could just be procrastinating. 

Knowing if you’re onto something: 

  1. This idea truly is original – You wake up in the middle of the night with a eureka moment and jot down this incredible idea that hasn’t been done before and when you’re fully awake, it’s still gold.  This could really be something special.  Keep working on it.
  2. You can’t let the idea go – It’s an idea you had in screenwriting class ten years ago or a vision for a film you had as a kid that you thought was nothing, but has stuck with you.  Get it down on paper.  If it’s nothing, it will fade away.  If it’s truly a great idea, you won’t be able to stop writing it until it’s done.  Sometimes we simply have to get the idea out before we can let it go, regardless of whether it’s actually marketable or not.
  3. Everyone you tell says it’s awesome – If you’re not sure about this idea that’s plaguing you, share it with everyone you know to get some feedback.  They’ll tell you whether it’s a good idea or not.  The more you talk about it, the more it begins to take shape and the more you’ll see it as a solid idea or you’ll realize you’ve got nothing and you can finally let it go.
  4. Someone else is doing it – I know you think it’s too late because there’s already a film or TV series out there that resembles your idea and it’s not advisable to pitch an idea that’s been done already, but you can if you prove your idea is better or has a strong unique twist.  Hollywood is all about producing the ‘same but different’.  This isn’t such a hot idea if the show or feature that preceded yours didn’t do so well. 

Clear indications that your idea is a total waste of time:

  1. The concept has no story – Maybe you’re trying too hard to be unique or break the Hollywood mold and your story isn’t traditional, but when it comes down to it, there’s really nothing there.  How do you know if there’s no story?  Try to describe it to your friends in a short sentence or paragraph.  If you can’t do it, there’s nothing there.
  2. It’s too weird – Again, if you’re trying to stand out by creating something totally unique and different, you could be trying too hard.  You might be the next Cronenberg or Tarantino, but then again, you may not.  It might be a fabulous exercise in stretching yourself creatively, but it also might be a total time-waster.
  3. It doesn’t flow easily – You’re mentally constipated and trying to push the idea onto the paper just isn’t getting you anywhere.  You love the concept, but whenever you get down to writing it, you hate it or you can’t visualize it and nothing comes out.  Might be time to pack it in. 
  4. You’re supposed to be working on something else – Clear indication that you’re procrastinating when you’re working on project B and project A is due in three weeks.  Put project B aside and get to work on A.  The only time this is helpful is if you’re blocked on A and working on another project helps get your creativity flowing. 

The strongest ideas are ones that just take us over completely.  The idea hits us in great detail and we dive into it without thinking, the characters come to us without effort, the story flows and the writing bursts from your fingertips onto the keyboard almost too fast for you to type.  You don’t want to sleep, you forget about eating, you see everything clearly and vividly as if you live there and whenever you leave this little world, you can’t wait to return.  Leave these little tired ideas behind and craft the idea that cannot be contained within you.