Gerald Hanks Filmography

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Your Screenplay Ideas: Original Vs. Unique

First off, I hope that you and yours are staying safe and healthy during this crisis.

If you're like a lot of writers, you're struggling with using this time to come up with an "original" idea for a script.

Some of you - from what I've seen from social media, too many of you - want to use this crisis as a jumping-off point for your script.

Others anticipate the flood of "pandemic scripts" coming out - most of them of poor to mediocre quality - and want to avoid writing on the subject altogether out of fear that your idea isn't "original" enough.

Whether you choose to write about this situation or steer clear of it entirely, the thing to remember is that what attracts readers to your script lies less in the concept and more in its execution.

If your script shows poor grammar, bad spelling, thin characters, and a nonsensical plot, then your "original" idea won't matter in the slightest.

If your script fails to show a proper understanding of screenplay format, story structure, or industry standards, then your "genius" concept will go to waste.

The best way to stand out among the herd of screenwriters is not to try to present an "original" idea.

If you go back to the first post in this blog, the idea of "originality" in screenwriting is highly overrated.

Instead of trying to be "original", writers should try to be "unique".

What's the difference?

The difference lies in presenting a story in a way that only you can tell it.

An incredibly vivid example comes from two different versions of the song "Hurt".

The Trent Reznor 1995 original comes across as a young man's lament while in the depths of depression and self-loathing.

The Johnny Cash 2002 cover uses the same melody and same lyrics (with one minor exception) and tells the story of an old man looking back on his life and facing his mortality.

After hearing Cash's version, Reznor commented, "That song isn’t mine any more."

Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash had distinctly different voices, different outlooks, and different ideas on music.

Both of them made "Hurt" a successful and memorable song.

But it was Johnny Cash's version that made a bigger impact on audiences, even by the original author's admission.

Here's an exercise: Instead of trying to work through your "original" idea, take your favorite public domain story and put your unique spin on it.

The point of this exercise is to learn the craft that goes into writing before delving into your "original" concepts and ideas.

Remember, West Side Story was a spin on Romeo and Juliet, and the film version won ten Oscars in 1962

The 1999 teen film Ten Things I Hate About You took The Taming of the Shrew and put it in a modern American high school.

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa moved Macbeth to medieval Japan and made Throne of Blood in 1957. He did the same thing in 1985 with King Lear and made Ran.

This list doesn't mean that you should shift your focus from telling your stories to retelling someone else's.

It doesn't mean that you should abandon your concepts and focus on been-there-done-that ideas.

It means that you should look for what makes your writing style unique in a world full of copycats.

You might find that, by trying to sing someone else's song, you can learn to find your true voice.

After all, even the Beatles started as a cover band.

If you need help in finding your voice, you can drop a note to Story Into Screenplay.

Story Into Screenplay can connect you with an experienced professional screenwriter, script consultant, convention speaker, and screenplay contest judge.

During the month of April, Story Into Screenplay is offering one hour of live screenplay consulting FREE!

To get your free hour of consulting, email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com or send a direct message through our Facebook page.

In the meantime, stay safe and keep writing!

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