“I find that when I am working I become like an antenna, and suddenly everything relates to my screenplay: a mentioned recipe, a joke somebody tells, a billboard that I see. It all becomes grist for whatever screenplay I’m working on.” – Wesley Strick, screenwriter of Cape Fear
When we begin working on a new idea we allow our imagination to wander. We see possibilities for our story all around us. Everything is refracted through the question: “Where does this live in the world of my story?”
If we seek to pull a moment or experience directly from our real life and drop it into our fiction, we may find limited success. But if we can distill that moment to its nature we may begin to see possibilities for our story everywhere. If, for example, we’re writing a monster movie set on Mars, we may draw inspiration from the parent in the china shop who admonishes their child for breaking a vase. What is it we notice? Does the parent blame the child for something they should have seen coming?
Even if there is no parent/child relationship in the film, the exchange could still inspire us. There could be two characters of unequal status: a novice and a master. Does the master grow frustrated with his young charge? How does he speak to him? Is there something in the way the parent speaks to the child in the china shop that elicits an “ah-ha” moment for us?
Since the desire to tell a story is the desire to resolve a dilemma, we are continually drawn to charged moments in our life. From the moment we hear the parent’s admonishment we may notice our curiosity piquing. Make a conscious choice throughout the day to ask yourself where something lives in your story. It is an exercise in making character and theme more important than your idea of the plot.