“That’s the problem with ideas. They only come a bit at a time.”
Unfortunately for us in the creative industries, we can’t really afford for them to come a bit at a time.
So we’re going to go through the easy process to developing a fragment of an idea into something fully-formed and pitch-ready.
Step 1: Outline your idea
Genre, theme, format, setting and structure.
Note down the basics of your idea.
Genre – start with the broad basics. Drama? Comedy? Then include any extra elements. There are plenty of overlaps in genre, like a drama with thriller elements.
Theme – this is the focus of your film and the heart of the story.
Format – usually confined to short, feature or series. If you’re aiming for a feature or series length project, note down if you plan to create a short version to use as a proof-of-concept.
Setting – this is where and when your film is set. You can be as broad or specific as you like. On some ideas in my slate I’ve just got ‘1800s, a town just outside of London’.
Structure – include any details about structures that would suit your idea. I always start with the standard three act structure, and layer others – like circular, hyperlink or Rashomon – on top of it.
These are the basics that will fully develop your spark into a pitch-ready idea, the fast way.
The best part? With these basics you can leave this idea on your slate, and pick it up whenever you like. With these details you’ll be able to jump straight into writing, without spending months developing your story.
Step 2: Character profiling (the fast way)
I like to keep character profiling as minimal as possible. This is mostly because it’s an easy way to get distracted, and it’s my go-to way to procrastinate actually making the film.
The only 3 details you need to know about your character are this stage are their desire, fatal flaw and complexity. You don’t even need to know their name or age at this point.
Their desire is their deepest, darkest want. It doesn’t have to be dark, but it’s the guiding motivator for every decision they make.
Their fatal flaw is the part of them that continually stops them from reaching their dreams. It might be low self-esteem, ego, or paranoia.
Lastly, their complexity is what they think they want, instead of what they really need. They might think they need to go on an all-veg diet to lose 20lbs, but they actually need to embrace a healthier lifestyle overall.
Get the custom workbook for developing your idea into a finished script here.
Your character doesn’t need to be profiled to the ends of the earth to be script-ready. You only need the core of who they are at this stage, especially for short films.
In a short, you won’t necessarily need to know that she resents her older brother because he was their Mum’s favourite, or that she got an A in her English GCSE. Stick to these 3 and don’t get distracted.
Step 3: Write regularly
The easiest way to make this happen is to schedule it into your calendar.
Make writing a regular appointment, and commit to at least 1 hour per week.
You can also keep a writing log, like the one in the Idea to Screenplay workbook, to master your writing habits.
Remember, the thief of creativity is saying to yourself, “I need to wait until I have a whole week to sit down and write this script”. Little and often is the key to a finished script that’s ready in weeks, not months.