If every writer followed this advice, entire genres would cease to exist. No more spaceships or aliens. No more elves or wizards. No more spy-fi or superhero origins or sensitive coming-of-age tales set in Depression-era Mississippi.
Here are some alternatives to writing “what you know”:
Write Who You KnowThe best stories come from the most powerful characters. These “powerful” characters don't need Hulk-sized muscles, but they need to take strong actions. Friends, family members, and co-workers can provide the seeds for memorable characters. If they have interesting stories to tell, use them as inspiration. If not, use their character traits as jumping-off points for your own stories. Don't be afraid to embellish, exaggerate, and expand their personality quirks into characters that audiences will want to see.
Write What You DesireA major reason why so many people want to be writers is that the act of creating stories serves as a means of wish fulfillment. As a writer, you can act as “god” of your story universe. You get to right the wrongs, reward those you feel deserve recognition, and punish those whose acts have spurred your unholy wrath. You create the ultimate conflict between good and evil, whether that battle occurs in a small mining town or in a galaxy far, far away.
Write What You FearAll of us have fears that haunt us. The monster in the closet, the bully at school, the abusive relative, or the long arm of the law can instill fear in the strongest heart. When you write a script about your fears, you give yourself the means to control those anxieties and use them to your advantage. You'll also create a script that has a universal appeal. Producers, agents, actors and audiences will feel that fear along with your protagonist, and will take solace in seeing how he (and you) overcome that fear.
Write What You Want To KnowIf you've ever had a skill that you wanted to acquire, you can write a script based on your experience as a student. The transition from student to master carries a built-in character arc. This arc also has a wide appeal, since nearly everyone has been a student. The next time you take a cooking class, attend a marketing seminar, or engage in a a screenwriting consultation session (HINT!), you'll have material for your story.
If you want to learn more about how to move beyond what you know about screenwriting, contact Story Into Screenplay for coverage services, screenplay critiques, and one-on-one consultations. Please email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com for more details.
ATTENTION HOUSTON SCREENWRITERS: I will be giving a presentation at Comicpalooza, the Texas International Comic-Con, on Saturday, May 23. The topic is "Turn Your Story Into A Screenplay."
My latest sci-fi short film, “Breathe Easy,” will also be screening on Sunday, May 24, at 11:00am and 8:00pm.
I hope to see all of you there. Thanks.