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15 Inspiring Ideas to Help You Decide What to Write a Screenplay About

Coming up with ideas for a screenplay can be one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. With so many options and possibilities, how do you decide to devote months or years of your life to writing? How do you find that perfect idea that is compelling, commercially viable, and has the potential for cinematic storytelling?

While there is no one “right” way to find inspiration, having different sources to draw from can ignite your creative spark. This article provides a list of 15 thought-provoking and inspiring springboards to help you figure out what to write your next great screenplay about.

Key Elements of a Good Screenplay Idea

Before diving into specific concepts for screenplays, it helps to understand what generally makes for a good film idea that could capture an audience’s imagination:

  • Compelling main character(s) – At the heart of most great films is a protagonist that viewers connect with, empathize with, or root for. Developing complex, multi-dimensional characters facing inner and outer turmoil is key.
  • Captivating story and plot – The narrative should pull audiences in, with a setup, rising action, intrigue, conflict, surprises, and satisfying resolution. Plots based on universal themes and emotions tend to resonate most.
  • Immersive world – Whether realistic or fantastical, movies transport us to fully realized worlds we want to get lost in. Vivid, believable settings and atmospheres draw in viewers.
  • Memorable dialogue – Distinctive, well-crafted dialogue helps develop characters and themes while driving the story forward in dramatic or humorous ways.
  • High stakes – The protagonist is facing obstacles and risks that feel urgent and meaningful. The central conflict should have weight and consequences.
  • Clear genre and tone – Even if blended, strong genre conventions and a consistent vibe provide the framework.

Keep these elements in mind as you explore and flesh out any of the following screenplay ideas. Ultimately, the most resonate films combine a great concept with well-crafted storytelling and characters.

1. Adapt a Favorite Book or Short Story

Some of the most acclaimed films are adaptations of novels, short stories, plays, or other source material. Adaptations allow you to build upon strong pre-existing characters and established narratives. Books with complex themes and vivid worlds lend themselves particularly well to film.

To legally adapt material to a screenplay, you’ll need to secure the rights through a licensing agreement. This involves some research to determine who controls the rights, and then reaching out to request authorization.

Literary works now in the public domain are open to adapt without needing rights, but it’s important to verify a work’s copyright status first. For instance, many classics by authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and the Brothers Grimm are in the public domain. Their iconic stories can provide the foundation for compelling scripts.

Whether adapting public domain material or licensed work, you’ll need to carefully choose which plot points and characters to bring to the screen. Novels often require significant reworking to transform the story into an effective cinematic narrative. But a great book or short story can inspire amazing films when adapted thoughtfully.

2. Tell a Personal Story

One of the most popular ways aspiring screenwriters get ideas is to draw upon real events and experiences from their own lives. Pulling from your own memories, background, relationships, and inner journey can add authentic, accessible elements.

Your own stories likely include built-in drama, interesting characters, and meaningful events that can translate powerfully to the screen when fictionalized appropriately. Impactful experiences like childhood and coming-of-age, family conflict, struggles with identity, romance, and overcoming adversity all make for compelling personalized films.

Of course, nuance is required when basing stories on real people and incidents versus pure fiction. It helps to fictionalize personalities and situations sufficiently to avoid accusations of misrepresenting real events. Protecting people’s privacy should be balanced with crafting an engaging narrative.

Done thoughtfully, writing “what you know” remains a straightforward, low-cost starting point for ideation. Your own life experiences filtered through imagination and creativity can spawn distinct, personal films.

3. Historical Events

History offers an incredible treasure trove of potential stories. There are countless fascinating historical events, time periods, and figures that provide the basis for bringing the past to life on screen.

The key is to research and find historical episodes that have cinematic scope and that connect to timeless themes. For example, events with heightened drama, high-stakes conflict, and interesting personalities often work well.

Periods of war, revolution, innovation, or major social change can provide compelling backdrops. Biopics exploring the lives of prominent historical figures like scientists, artists, leaders, and activists offer built-in drama. Stories of overcoming adversity and fighting injustice resonate across any time period.

Epics like Titanic, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Amadeus demonstrate the potential for gripping historical dramas. Even semi-fictionalized tales loosely based on actual events can make for powerful viewing.

Approaching history as inspiration for narratives with universal appeal is recommended over the dry recounting of facts. Bringing key moments of the past to vibrant life on screen remains endlessly intriguing.

4. Current Events and News

Every day, news and current events unfold that have the potential to inspire screenplays. Creative writers can look at interesting news developments and stories as they emerge to find timely ideas.

For movies, compelling current event topics often involve high-stakes human dramas on topics like political tensions, natural disasters, controversial issues, scandals, rescues, and more.

The perspective can be fictional characters impacted by real-world events, or lesser-known true stories uncovered in the news. Dramatized depictions of recent news can illuminate different sides of impactful events.

One advantage of topical stories is tapping into public interest around widely reported events. Timing films to coincide with real occurrences can garner attention.

However, films need longevity to have lasting appeal. It helps to focus on universal human emotions and reactions versus just recapping fleeting facts in the news. With a creative outlook, current affairs offers no shortage of thought-provoking film ideas.

5. Remakes and Reimaginings

Some screenwriters find inspiration not in wholly new ideas, but by reimagining existing films, myths, or well-known stories. Creating a fresh take or version of classic tales allows building upon familiar, beloved elements.

Remakes come in many forms – from updated adaptations of old films to putting a completely new spin on outdated stories. Finding inventive ways to reinvent archetypal characters, iconic stories or vintage genres can be highly engaging.

For example, modern remakes of Shakespeare’s plays have translated the classic works to contemporary settings. Adding creative twists helps remake ideas feel new, rather than just replicated. Clever reinvention and stylistic flair are key.

The challenge is bringing a fresh perspective that justifies retelling a known story. Find angles that inject novelty while respecting and playing with the original spirit. Putting your own imprint through inventive worldbuilding, bold stylistic choices, mashups, or unexpected character journeys allows reimaginings to soar.

6. Biopics on Fascinating Public Figures

Biopics remain one of the most reliably compelling genres, as evidenced by award-winning films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Lincoln, Erin Brockovich, and The Social Network. Biographical movies dramatize the real lives of prominent public figures in fields like music, politics, science, activism, or athletics.

The key is centering on fascinating people who lived consequential, extraordinary lives. Figures who overcame major adversity accomplished groundbreaking achievements, or ignited impactful movements tend to make for absorbing biopics.

You can take historical figures from decades or centuries ago and portray their towering life stories. Modern-day public figures with very recent, newsworthy accomplishments also offer timely biopic potential.

In some cases, biopics profile little-known aspects of famous people’s lives versus what already made them a household name. With extensive research, lesser-known periods and relationships can be uncovered to show a multi-faceted life story.

The right public figure’s true story – filtered through a cinematic lens – provides built-in drama, conflict, and character development. Biopics remain a bankable route for screenwriters seeking intriguing real-life stories.

7. Interesting People You Know

In addition to your own life, compelling screenplay inspiration can come from the fascinating people you know and encounter. Friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances all have diverse backgrounds, personalities, and experiences.

With permission and discretion, the memorable “characters” in your own world might provide the basis for cinematic stories. The quirky friend, eccentric relative, or exceptionally accomplished co-worker could spark idea generation.

Of course, directly depicting the real lives of non-public figures requires obtaining consent and protecting privacy through fictionalization. However personal relationships offer insight into stories and perspectives not broadly seen on screen.

The key as a writer is identifying timeless underlying themes and universal emotions that translate. Specific personalities and relationships can reimagined in service of resonant narratives.

Who we know and interact with provides a well of creativity to tap into for bringing fresh stories to the screen. Keep an eye out for inspiring life stories among everyday people you connect with.

8. Important Social Issues

Societal issues and injustices provide endless fodder for impactful films. Screenplays tackling weighty topics like discrimination, economic inequality, health crises, human rights abuses, domestic violence, and more can raise awareness powerfully.

Dramas centered on controversial social matters inherently contain high stakes, urgency, and drama. They offer opportunities to spotlight underrepresented voices and experiences through an accessible medium like film.

The greatest impact comes from moving beyond just preaching or politicizing. While tackling substantive issues, focusing on relatable characters, emotions, and experiences connects audiences. Balancing education with entertainment enhances reach.

Thoughtful films on important topics – from Moonlight exploring identity to Philadelphia addressing HIV stigma – remind us of cinema’s ability to highlight real-world issues in compelling ways. There are always more vital contemporary subjects to bring to screens.

9. Interesting Places You’ve Visited

Locations with distinct visuals, culture, and personality can provide excellent cinematic inspiration. Think of the most fascinating destinations you’ve traveled to with scenic landscapes, iconic architecture, and unique vibes.

Places with inherent mood, character, and energy – like Venice, Paris, or Marrakesh – leap off the screen. Transportive settings you’ve experienced first-hand can ground stories with authenticity.

Locations themselves can even drive the narrative. For example, an eerie village, a vibrant music club, or a breathtaking natural vista might spark ideas for mysteries, coming-of-age tales or adventure stories intrinsically tied to the locale.

Leveraging real travel experiences allows infusing scripts with photogenic scenery and tangible details. Just take care not to portray identifiable businesses without permission. Vivid locations combined with imagination make for cinematic stories.

10. Relationships and Careers

Universal life stages and occupations are fertile ground for relatable tales. We all share experiences like family bonds, first crushes, jobs, and passions. Focusing on broadly resonant roles and relationships opens story possibilities.

Parent-child dynamics, the ups and downs of marriage, dating struggles, friendships, and sibling and extended family bonds all provide endless fodder. Highlighting shared experiences fosters connections with audiences.

Likewise, common careers like law, medicine, hospitality, tech, and more allow viewers to connect to characters in familiar roles. Underrepresented fields also merit exploration, or inventing unusual vocations.

Of course, specificity is key even with common situations. Thoroughly develop fictional relationships versus relying only on cliches. Deeply explore a profession’s nuances. Uncover fresh angles on familiar foundations.

Universal roles and relationships contain innate drama and conflict to tap into in a way that feels natural and accessible. Put your own spin and perspective into these common aspects of life.

11. Classic Comedy Premises

Certain tried-and-true comedic premises have spawned hilarious films for generations by expertly orchestrating laughs. While any genre can spark movie ideas, comedies offer fun foundations to put your own spin on.

Think of scenarios like mistaken identity humor, fish out of the water, odd couple matchups, wacky competitions, underdog stories, satire, role reversal and more. Classics like Some Like It Hot, Trading Places, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail capitalize on funny premises.

Putting uniquely modern or personalized twists on established comedy set-ups helps beat tired tropes. Building fully-dimensional characters within amusing situations takes things to the next level.

Browse lists of best comedies for inspiration on premises with proven potential. Then find ways to refresh the ideas or execute them with your unique voice and perspective. Timeless comedic formulas still offer a range for imagination.

12. Thrilling Plots and Events

Suspenseful, dramatic stories centered on exciting events naturally translate on screen. Think cinematic set pieces like bank heists, hostage situations, daredevil stunts, espionage missions, murder mysteries, and more.

These thrilling scenarios all contain innate drama, high stakes, intriguing characters, and built-in escalation. They provide impactful frameworks to then layer in complex themes and relationships.

Historical accounts, news stories, and your own “what if?” imagination can generate exhilarating events ripe for big-screen adventure. Just be sure to elevate beyond just the plot, with nuanced characters and deeper messages.

With so much competition for the audience’s attention these days, high-concept stories and extraordinary events help cut through the noise. A thrilling hook thoughtfully executed provides a solid start.

13. Thought-Provoking “What Ifs?”

Speculative scenarios that tweak reality offer a powerful launch pad. These thought exercises start by asking “what if?” then develop those hypothetical worlds and characters.

Twilight Zone-esque “what ifs” allow pushing societal or scientific boundaries, inventing strange new realities, and experimenting with expectations. These big ideas provide blank canvases for envisioning fresh stories.

Examples include – “What if ghosts could communicate with the living?” “What if cloning technology existed?” “What if animals could talk?” Let your imagination run wild in contemplating novel scenarios, and then bring them to life.

Of course, compelling characters and themes still ground even the wildest concepts. But starting with a provocative speculative premise can spark wildly original films to engage audiences.

14. Fascinating Periods in History

As mentioned for historical events, interesting time periods in the past can inspire great screenplays. Beyond specific famous events, consider eras with compelling zeitgeists.

Periods with major cultural shifts, societal tensions, innovations, and distinct styles are inherently dramatic. The visuals, speech patterns, philosophies and lifestyles all provide rich backdrops.

The Jazz Age, Renaissance Florence, Qing Dynasty China, and Ancient Rome suggest the possibilities. Each transports audiences to a vivid setting with built-in complexity.

Key figures and iconic stories from various eras provide natural hooks. But fictional new tales also come alive when rooted in meticulously researched histories.

Immerse in your period of choice to make historical eras leap off the page authentically. The full sweep of human history offers unlimited potential for cinematic stories.

15. Fresh Twists on Proven Genres

Some writers find inspiration not in specific concepts, but by putting a novel spin on established genres. Consider genres like drama, comedy, thriller, mystery, sci-fi, romantic comedy and their conventions.

Then brainstorm ways to bend the “rules”, blend genres, or subvert expectations. How can you expand a genre’s boundaries or amplify certain elements? WhatBig, surprising twists could reinvigorate tired tropes?

Approaching genre with an experimental mindset leads to original ideas. Updating outdated conventions also helps modernize beloved genres.

No genre ever stays static. Find the unexplored corners of established story frameworks primed for your unique voice. Reinvention and unconventional angles help genres continue to thrive.

Wrap Up

I hope these 15 springboards spark creativity in figuring out your next screenplay’s concept. Remember – the originality is in the execution. Even familiar ideas can feel fresh with imaginative worldbuilding, characters, and style.

Let your own passions, experiences, knowledge, and influences guide your writing. Draw from real life, but fictionalize appropriately. And keep central the fundamentals of complex characters, compelling narrative, and high stakes.

What matters most is infusing your personal inspiration into universally resonant stories. A great logline and premise provide a jumping-off point. Making that concept shine on the page and screen rests in your hands.

The only limit are your imagination. Soak in this amazing medium’s rich history, but also look to the future. What timely, unique, and thrilling new tales will you bring to life on the silver screen? The possibilities are endless.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are good screenplay ideas?

Good screenplay ideas tend to have compelling main characters, an intriguing plot/conflict, high stakes, and a captivating world and tone. Universal themes that connect with viewers emotionally also make for good ideas.

How do you come up with a screenplay idea?

You can come up with screenplay ideas from personal experiences, news/current events, historical events, adaptations of books, reimagining existing films, fascinating public figures or places, thriller plots, etc. Brainstorming “what if” scenarios and putting fresh twists on genres also sparks ideas.

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

The #1 rule is to focus on engaging the reader and telling a compelling visual story vs just writing prose. Using tight, spare description, snappy dialogue, and well-crafted characters to create an immersive experience is key.

What to consider when writing a screenplay?

When writing a screenplay, consider strong story structure, multidimensional characters, subtext, imagery, efficient use of description, conveyance of tone/mood, stage direction, appropriate formatting, and writing dialogue that fits the characters.

What are good topics for a short film?

Good short film topics involve a limited cast and location while still having emotional impact. Relationship dramas, slice of life vignettes, suspenseful scenarios, and creative takes on social issues can make for compelling short films.

What are the three C’s of screenwriting?

The three C’s are: Character, Conflict, and Change. Strong characters facing significant conflict and undergoing inner change are central to most great screenplays.

Do screenplay writers make money?

Most screenwriters only make money if their script is optioned or sold. Spec scripts (not assignments) face steep odds of selling. But for the few writers who do sell their work, or become hired for assignments, it can be quite lucrative.

Can you just write a screenplay?

Legally, you can write a screenplay about any idea you want without permission. However, if you wish for it to be produced, you may need to acquire life rights or book rights. Copyrighted elements also can’t be used without permission.

Is screenplay writing profitable?

For most writers, screenplay writing itself is not profitable because they don’t sell their work. However, those able to sell spec scripts or get hired for writing assignments can earn substantial income. The top screenwriters earn into the millions. But it’s very competitive.

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