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Need a Screenplay Idea? Try This Game!

By on February 15, 2019 in Genre, Tips and Tactics, Tools with 13 Comments
Viola Davis in the Golden Fleece, Widows

Viola Davis in the Golden Fleece, Widows, by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen

This past weekend, a group of lovely and enthusiastic writers joined me for another Save the Cat! Weekend Intensive workshop. As always, we laughed, we learned, and the writers made incredible progress on their projects, whipping their fifteen beats into shape.

But, of course, before any of that can happen, we have to start with an idea.

Sometimes ideas for screenplays seem to land in your lap fully formed. Other times you know you want to write a screenplay but you don’t yet have a story in mind. In Save the Cat! Blake offers a couple of games to help brainstorm new ideas, and today I thought I’d share one more. It’s a way to get the creativity rolling and generate some new movie ideas on the spot.

First, a caveat: brainstorming is all about letting the ideas flow. I know you know this, but it’s worth setting our expectations for this exercise. We’re not going to come up with one brilliant idea after another. No. We’re going to come up with one idea after another, and decide what’s brilliant later. (Or take something we’ve come up with and add some brilliance to it.) For now, any idea is a good idea. Quantity over quality.

Here’s today’s idea-generating game:

1. Choose any one of the 10 Save the Cat! genres.
2. Think of a specific for each of the three genre elements.
3. Write a quick-and-dirty logline to make the idea a little more solid.

What does this look like in practice? I’ll take you through the steps in real time:

1. Choose any one of the 10 Save the Cat! genres.

For genre I’ll start with Golden Fleece.

2. Think of a specific for each of the three genre elements.

The three elements for Golden Fleece are a road, a team, and a prize. I’ll go with the Pacific Crest Trail, four women who were best friends in high school, and the prize is finishing in order to show up a rival.

3. Write a quick-and-dirty logline to make the idea a little more solid.

If you’re crafty, you might remember that there’s a list of genre-specific logline templates. And you might look up the Golden Fleece template to find: “A driven hero must lead a group of allies to retrieve a prized possession through a perilous journey that wasn’t what the hero expected.”

And then you might plug in your brainstormed elements, spontaneously fleshing it out wherever necessary to get the idea into a more solid shape:

“A recently-dumped woman drags her three former best friends on a hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in order to show up her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, but along the way realizes what’s really important are the people who are willing to walk with you even when the trail gets rocky.”

Okay, I said the logline would be quick and dirty, and it definitely is. But we’re going for quantity not quality and now I have a brand new story idea I didn’t have before. I can set that one aside and try it again.

Maybe I’ll stay in the same genre and generate five or 10 ideas here. Maybe I’ll try to generate three ideas in each genre. Maybe I’ll challenge myself to come up with one new logline every day for a month, and then at the end of the month I’ll have 30 brand new ideas to tweak and finesse until I get that spark of excitement and simply must write one of them.

The best way to come up with a good movie idea is to come up with a lot of movie ideas. To that end, use this exercise whenever and however you need it. Give it a try and if you have modifications to this game that help you generate even more ideas, share those in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!

And, because I like you and I want to see you in my next Weekend Intensive or Online Writers Course with your brilliant movie idea, here are the 10 genres with their elements and loglines to give you a head start:

SAVE THE CAT!® 10 GENRE ELEMENTS AND LOGLINES
Monster in the House: Monster, House, Sin
A culpable hero is forced to save a trapped group of people from being killed by a monster he inadvertently unleashed.

Golden Fleece: Road, Team, Prize
A driven hero must lead a group of allies to retrieve a prized possession through a perilous journey that wasn’t what the hero expected.

Out of the Bottle: Wish, Spell, Lesson
A covetous hero must learn to undo a spell he wished for before it turns into a curse he can’t undo.

Dude With A Problem: Innocent Hero, Sudden Event, Life or Death
An unwitting hero must survive at all costs when he is dragged into a life or death situation he never saw coming and cannot escape.

Rites of Passage: Life Problem, Wrong Way, Acceptance
A troubled hero’s only way to overcome a spiraling life crisis is to defeat his worst enemy – himself.

Buddy Love: Incomplete Hero, Counterpart, Complication
An inadequate hero must rise above an extremely difficult situation to be with a uniquely unlikely partner who is the only one capable of bringing him peace.

Whydunit: Detective, Secret, Dark Turn
A single-minded hero must find the truth to a mystery so intriguing before he is swallowed by the darkness he desperately seeks to expose.

Fool Triumphant: Fool, Establishment, Transmutation
An innocent hero’s only way to defeat the prejudices of a group is to change himself without losing what made him the group’s target of disdain in the first place – his uniqueness.

Institutionalized: Group, Choice, Sacrifice
An outsider’s only way to save his individuality is by going against the many who wish to integrate him into their fold.

Superhero: Special Power, Nemesis, Curse
A uniquely special hero must defeat an opponent with stronger capabilities by using the same powers that disconnect him from the people he hopes to save.

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Naomi Beaty

About the Author

About the Author: Naomi Beaty, a screenwriter and script reader in Los Angeles, teaches our online beat sheet screenwriting workshops, our in-person weekend intensive workshops, and hosts our STC! podcasts. Visit her online home and get access to the new library of downloadable screenplays and screenwriting resources. .

There Are 13 Comments

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  1. Stewart Wauchop says:

    Where are the specific genre logline templates? Notin my ‘uptodate’ SW? In the STC books?

  2. LK Glover says:

    Hi, Naomi! Oooh! Great post. This would be a super fun exercise for a snowy weekend writer retreat!

    • Naomi says:

      Hey Laron!

      Thank you and glad you enjoyed it. And yes, you’re right — time to plan that writers’ retreat. 🙂

      Naomi

  3. Anish says:

    Great….
    Can you give an example with buddy love genre …

    • Naomi says:

      You guys! Did I do that bad of a job at explaining the game or are you just trying to pick my brain for new story ideas?! ;P

      Okay – here’s a Buddy Love to get you going…

      Incomplete Hero: Cynical food blogger
      Counterpart: Gratitude-focused chef
      Complication: He has to destroy her restaurant in order to get his publishing deal

      The template logline is this: “An inadequate hero must rise above an extremely difficult situation to be with a uniquely unlikely partner who is the only one capable of bringing him peace.”

      When I plug in my elements and tweak for readability, it’s something like: “In order to get a publishing deal, a cynical blogger goes undercover in the kind of hipster restaurant he can’t wait to hate, but the closer he gets to the gratitude-focused chef the closer he gets to destroying her restaurant — and his last chance at happiness.”

      Again – totally off the top of my head! Still much work to do, I’m guessing. But it’s an idea I didn’t have before.

      Good luck!

  4. JoAnn says:

    Great idea. I mixed Rite of Passage with Dude with a Problem and solved the issues with a new sci-fi story I’m writing.

  5. Alexis says:

    Can I have more than one protagonist in my “Out of the Bottle” genre or will that make things too confusing?

    • Naomi says:

      Hey Alexis! Yes, you could have a dual- or co-protagonist in any story, I think. (I can’t think of any genre that you *couldn’t*, off the top of my head anyway.) Every story is unique, so if your story needs two protags, then give it two protags. 🙂 You’ll just want to make sure that the co-protagonists are both necessary and that you’re always aiming for clarity, as you mentioned.

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