Many first-time screenwriters have spent years and years waiting to find the time and cultivate the patience and skill to finally begin their rookie effort, only to discover the curse of the blinking cursor, a fate worse than writer’s block, in which one not only does not know what to write, one does not even know what one wants to write about, but take heart, as there are all sorts of ways of finding ideas if one knows the right places to look.
A now outdated snippet of industry speak is “flipping the pages” which refers to using newspapers as a source of material for screenplays. In this day and age, “surfing the sites” might be more appropriate, but either way, if one picks up any newspaper, one will inevitably find stories of dreams realized and hopes dashed, stories of great acts of kindness and cruelty, stories of loss and stories of redemption. One cannot proceed to try to tell the actual story, using the specific names and exact facts recounted in the story, but it can be an incredibly useful jumping off point for finding ideas when a screenwriter gets stalled. Another excellent way of finding ideas, though not so immediately gratifying, is to write “morning pages”.
Morning pages are notes a screenwriter makes immediately upon waking, with the challenge being to craft a wholly new story every morning when the unconscious is still somewhat accessible to the conscious mind, and many believe our creative energies are at their most potent. It does not matter if many of these pages describe stories that lack coherence, resolution, structure, even readily identifiable characters. The exercise is not so much one to come up with the actual idea for a script as it is to engage in a practice that will keep one’s mind constantly focused on developing a concept that will practically write itself.
The oldest and most time-honored way to generate material is to steal. A screenwriter should be watching at least one or two movies a day just to keep his or her head in the game, but also because one never knows when one will catch a film that one can rip off. This is not about exact imitation, as that is both unwise and illegal. This is more about tweaking a concept, perhaps collapsing the premises of two films into one. This is often the way one pitches a screenplay to potential buyers, its X MOVIE meets Y MOVIE, so one shouldn’t be afraid to take whatever elements work in another film and inject them into his or her own script; in fact, this is often the way in which even the most seasoned screenwriters go about finding ideas.