Do you have a method to generate your ideas?

–Anonymous

Not really. I’ve never found it particularly hard to generate ideas. Most of the time, I have far too many different things I want to write, and the challenge is deciding which ones are actually worth the investment of time and thought. So I don’t really have any methods for generating ideas. I don’t brainstorm. I don’t draw mind-maps. I only outline if I’m concerned about fitting the pieces together.

In fact, 90% of the time, I’m trying to find methods for shutting competing ideas out, so that I’ll actually get my work finished. Or get to sleep.

I’m drawing a distinction here between coming up with new ideas (“a biker movie in space”) and figuring out how to solve specific problems with a story or scene (“how should the villain capture the Millenium Harley?”). Obviously, every writer is going to have to find ways to get over these hurdles when they come up. A few techniques that often help include:

  • figuring out what the outcome needs to be, then working backwards;
  • deciding what caused the problem in the first place, and whether it can be changed or cut;
  • looking at the moment from another character’s perspective;
  • quickly writing several different solutions, then judging whether one or a combination of several best address the problem.

For all the talk of high-concept comedies or big-idea action tentpole movies, a screenwriter’s daily life is almost entirely about coming up with the “little” ideas that help get the story told.