Home > Script Writing > Script Writing: The Concept

Script Writing: The Concept

By: Jake Horsley - Updated: 14 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Screenwriting Movies Blue Velvet Taxi

Every screenplay begins with an idea, known in the business as "the concept." It is well-known that the script that "sells" best is one that can be pitched in two sentences or less, i.e., summed up in simple, visceral terms that appeal to people with short attention spans. This form of mental short-hand may be rooted in the marketplace, but it is also based on the fact that movies, to have mass appeal, must be aimed at the senses rather than the intellect (though the best movies satisfy both).

A scriptwriter's challenge is to tell a story in images. The most polished and perfect script is only a blueprint, a departure point, the acorn from which an oak may (or may not) grow. Its only value is in its potential. A screenplay is a work in progress; if it reads like a finished product, it is likely to stay that way. It is often remarked in Hollywood that any script that reads like a novel will never make a great movie.

The Pitch

The standard pitch in the movie business these days is to describe your screenplay in terms of previous movies, preferably hits. "It's Dracula meets Bonnie and Clyde" (Near Dark), or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Breakfast Club" (The Faculty), and so on. A scriptwriter should never confuse the pitch with the product, however. Such punchy encapsulations may work well enough on studio executives, but they are the death of a writer's inspiration. There is a world of difference between contriving to imitate someone else's ideas and conceiving your own.

A painter may start to paint with no clear idea of what he or she will end up with. Likewise, a novelist may not know what the book is really about until halfway through it. As a scriptwriter, however, chances are you will need a good, clear concept of the work as a whole before you can even begin to write it. Screenplays more or less demand from the get-go a tight (though not rigid) structure of beginning, middle, and end. The primary reason is that scripts are strictly limited in length; anything over 110 pages generally won't be accepted. If you don't know how your story is going to unfold, you run the risk of winding up with a 300-page epic no one will ever read, much less produce.

The Seed

The seed of a good screenplay can be anything at all: a scene, a theme, a character, a situation, an image, or all of the above. David Lynch's script for Blue Velvet began with the idea of a young man sneaking into a woman's apartment, hiding in her closet to watch her undress, and there glimpsing the clue to a mystery. This became a central motif of the movie, and even wound up on the publicity posters. Ideas, like images, emerge from the unconscious mind. If sufficiently strong, they can take hold of the conscious mind and "inspire" it to develop them further.

When trying to come up with an idea for a script-since there is no way to go into the place of ideas and shop around-it pays to allow ideas to bubble up freely, to observe which way they lead, what images, themes, and scenarios they connect to (if any), and above all how much they excite you. Like seeds, not all ideas are good ones, and not all of them are going to take root, much less bear fruit. But a good seed takes root almost at once, and while a novelist may spend up to ten years on a single book, some scriptwriters are able to throw off a first draft in as little as a week.

Here are some of the more basic "launch pads" for commencing work on a script:

  • An image central to the plot's unfolding, or one which encapsulates the script's themes. (Man in cast sits by window with telescope - Rear Window)
  • A character whose personal development and/or crisis makes up the bulk of the story. (Travis Bickle - Taxi Driver)
  • A theme you wish to develop by weaving a story and characters around it. (Human interface with technology and the dehumanizing effects of violence - Videodrome)
  • A premise that shapes and inspires the plot in the process of being developed. (Brain technology allows clients to erase memories of failed love affairs - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  • A situation that serves either as a departure or destination point for your story. (Young man peers through the slats of a woman's closet - Blue Velvet)

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • diya
    Re: What is a Synopsis and How to Write One
    i need your help to write synopsis on the topic of "effect of gamma radiation on sanitary napkins"
    20 February 2018
  • Basharat
    Re: Improving Your Sentence Structure
    Really, informative and helpful in structuring sentences. Could you please help me out in improving my sentences?
    3 February 2018
  • Kiya
    Re: How to Write News Articles
    Thanks . Like the upper comments said its very helpful ! I've always wanted to write stories based on the world problems and etc...
    24 December 2017
  • Shay_Marie
    Re: Learning to Think Like a Writer
    I'm a young women who's graduated high school, and not yet been able to go to collage, but I have a passion for writing, and I…
    24 October 2017
  • Elena
    Re: Plot vs. Character
    I've been studying screen writing for 18 but feel I never can learn enough. I want to master the craft - eventually.
    23 August 2017
  • Chris
    Re: Script Writing Dialogue and Description
    Many, many thanks for the crafting of this scientific and auspicious art form of creativity*** you are hitting the…
    29 July 2017
  • JCarlos
    Re: What is a Synopsis and How to Write One
    I have no problem with writing screenplays but when it comes to writing the synopsis I just can't seem to write it…
    28 May 2017
  • deepu
    Re: Creating Your Website
    Use the prologue to provide backstory. One way to use a prologue is to provide backstory on a character or several characters. A backstory…
    15 May 2017
  • Nikki
    Re: What is a Synopsis and How to Write One
    Am writing a book on an African language and I wanted to know if i have to write a synopsis.
    7 May 2017
  • Giles
    Re: Narrative Journalism
    Hi there You might be interested in Well Told - it's the first conference in the UK to be dedicated to narrative and longform journalism.…
    18 April 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ExploreWriting website. Please read our Disclaimer.