If your goal is to traffic in mainstream, commercial movies, I cannot overstate the importance of your spec script’s story concept. As I detailed here, it is critical to the success of your original screenplay.
So let’s say you take this seriously. You generate lots of story ideas. Great. How to assess them?
Here are five questions you can ask about any idea you come up with to help determine if it’s something worth pursuing as a script.
Does the concept have a grab?
The concept should have significant narrative elements that “grab” a reader’s imagination, elicit curiosity, and arouse an emotional response.
These elements may include the core conceit, key characters such as Protagonist and Nemesis, the central conflict, themes, where the story fits into its genre, and so on.
Does the concept have an indicator?
The concept should “indicate” to a reader the general direction the narrative will take, and that it promises to be an entertaining ride.
When any studio executive, producer, manager or agent hears a story concept, they want to be able to see the overall contour of the plot and what is compelling about it.
Does the concept have an audience?
The concept should conjure up a distinct “audience,” one a reader can readily match to a targeted, demographic group.
Anyone who is in a position to buy a script when hearing a story concept for the first time will immediately think, “Who will want to see this movie?”
Is the concept big enough to be a movie?
The concept should feel “big,” something that could sustain the interest of a script reader (and eventually a moviegoer) for up to two hours.
From a buyer’s standpoint, this question is directly related to the previous one: “Will the experience of watching this movie satisfy the viewer who spent $10 or more to see it?”
I have framed these four questions from a script reader and buyer’s perspective, however they work at the level of a writer thinking about the story strictly as a writing project:
- Does the concept have enough of a grab to give me confidence I can write a fully fleshed-out and entertaining story?
- Does the concept have a clear enough indicator to suggest a strong Plotline and Themeline leading to a satisfying resolution?
- Does the concept have a specific enough audience so I know for whom I am writing the story?
- Does the story feel big enough for me to find the narrative elements I need to write an engaging story of one hundred pages or more?
If those questions don’t speak directly enough to your writer’s soul about a story concept, this one surely will:
Does the story resonate with me on a personal level?
You may have stumbled upon the greatest high concept of all time, but if you don’t connect with it, if you don’t sense much in the way of enthusiasm for its narrative possibilities, and/or if the story doesn’t play to your writing strengths, it’s probably not a good idea to write that story.
You need to have some sort of personal connection with a story to find its emotional core and imbue its characters with life.
You need to have a passion for a story to keep luring you back to the writing and push you to FADE OUT. Writing is hard work. Writing something for which you do not have much enthusiasm is really hard work.
So five questions to help you assess any concept, but bottom line you must be passionate about any story to write it in such a way that it lifts up off the printed page and comes alive in the imagination of a script reader.