Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 7)

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I will run a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

This week: How do you come up with story concepts?

Today we wrap up this series with some thoughts from several writers on how to develop one’s skill at generating and developing story ideas:

Daniel Kunka: “For me, I like to marry ideas that might not have a lot in common. For ‘Agent Ox’, I love spy thrillers, so it was taking that but putting it on an alien planet. For ‘Bermuda [Triangle]’, it was the concept of the Triangle but marrying it with a disaster movie. I definitely think that it’s something you can train yourself to do. It’s about going to movies or reading scripts and seeing how ideas work. Once you learn to think critically about other scripts, you can start to see why the writer did this or that and that will eventually get you to think the same way about your ideas.”
Carter Blanchard: “When I came up with ‘Glimmer’, I don’t think I would have tried a time travel movie without the found footage element. Everybody wanted to do found footage, but time travel was something they hadn’t done in that genre yet. That made it compelling for me. When you mix genres up or you put an unlikely character into a familiar construct, sometimes that creates a whole new mechanism. I try to do that a lot. I try and come up with something familiar that is done in a way I haven’t seen before. That’s a big aspect of how I think when I’m trying to generate new ideas.”
Chris Borrelli: “Thinking about your favorite films, is there a way that you could take some of your favorite films and match them up with another kind of film… But the more you train your brain to look for stories…to put two things together, that haven’t been put together before…to read up on articles…to do research in what’s coming out in science, or art, or looking back to stories from 1,000 years ago…myths, fairy tales. The more knowledge you have, the more the stories will come.”
Jeremiah Friedman: “We also try to go about life in kind of a hyper-aware state, always looking for new stories and characters we can build off of.”
Spenser Cohen: “I’m a workaholic, so it doesn’t matter if I’m in my car, or whatever I’m doing, I’m always, always thinking of ideas. I’ll text myself ideas, or email myself ideas.”
Justin Marks: “I have a Moleskine notebook. I just date them and stack them up on my desk. Every day I carry it around, and if I have an idea I jot it down.
Chris Borrelli: “It’s something you should always be doing, in my opinion. You should always be open to ideas and stories. I have an idea file. I look back over it and it’s 400 pages long of different ideas. I’ll try to put them together. There are a lot of tricks to it. The number one thing I say to a writer is being open to different ideas. When something interests you, you write it down and maybe you go and look at it three months later, six months later. Maybe there’s an angle on it you haven’t seen… I’m always searching for that idea and it’s a way of training your mind to be open to it. It’s not easy, but they will come.”

At least four takeaways from these comments:

* Use preexisting stories such as movies and give them a twist, a unique spin, even mix-and-match them or switch genres. Hollywood has a longstanding tradition of recycling stories. There is no reason writers can’t fish in that same stream.

* As you go about life, be in a “hyper-aware state,” one part of your brain on guard for ideas should they spring into your imagination on their own or inspired by something directly in the world around you.

* Create a file or designate a notebook in which to put down your story ideas so you can have them in a central location.

* Work at it. The more you do, the better you will get at generating story concepts.

For Part 1 of the series on story concepts, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Tomorrow we take up another subject area related to the craft of writing as reflected on by some Black List writers.

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