How to choose which of your great ideas are actually worth developing...
Do you have a ton of ideas kicking about your head and don't know what to do with them?
Are you tormented daily not knowing how to get all of your genius out into the world?
There's too many options – do I write a book, a play, a TV show, a film, make a short film – and too few road maps to help you choose.
Not all ideas are created equal. So, how do we decide which ideas to develop?
I have a lot of ideas. Like… a lot.
In fact, I have roughly 1 billion semi-developed stories floating about my head (and hard-drive) and more coming daily – I doubt I’ll ever be able to get them all out in one lifetime.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, "Wow, brag much? Better problems to have", but I can tell you from experience that having too many ideas is no luxury.
Do you ever sit in front of Netflix and find that there are so many options that your brain kind of... freezes? This phenomenon is known as "Decision Paralysis" and is proof that more options aren't always better.
Having too many ideas means you have more to sift through, and if you're anything like me, makes it harder for you to stick to any one idea and actually get it finished because –
"If this one's too hard, I can just switch to another one, right?".
Sure, if you want to spend your time wheel-spinning and never get anything finished. So, let's talk about how we can cut through the chaff and shortlist viable ideas:
Off with their heads!
First off we must take inventory of our ideas to find out which stories have the most potential.
This means no seeds of an idea, no half-written scenes you don’t know what to do with, no endings with no beginnings (do you feel personally attacked right now?).
Set yourself a mininum "level of completion" that an idea must meet before you can consider it a viable project to work on. This could be you have or could easily write a treament for it, a clearly defined premise, a pilot written, etc.
Everything else needs to go to the backburner until a later date. This is your starting point. These are the ideas you should focus on. If you only have one idea that meets this criteria, well done, you can get started.
What's selling these days?
We might not like it, but writing is a business and if you want to sell anything then you’ll need to latch onto what is, or will be, popular to the market.
What do people actually want to watch right now? What is there a gap in the market for? If you can hit this on the head with your idea you will have producers biting your hand off.
Luckily, there is a tonne of information to help you with this such as, deadline.com, r/screenwriting, screenwriting Facebook groups, your peers, industry news, etc.
You could even search reviews of shows with similar premises to your own on aggregate sites like RottenTomatoes.com to judge the public response to them. Even if your idea is super unique, you can still evaluate if there is a taste for it in the market.
(With this in mind, you might want to put that memoir about your summer spent working in a meat canning factory away for the time being.)
Am I chasing the right medium?
You see this a lot. A show has an amazing premise, a clear direction… right up to the end of season one. Then season two rolls around and it’s like nobody in the writers’ room knew what to do with it.
So, it limps along for a few more seasons until one of those evil fun-killers Network Execs puts the poor show out of its misery – never having lived up to its potential.
You’ll often read that all you need to sell a pilot is to have an amazing script and a general idea of the first season. That’s great if you have a universal story that can go literally anywhere, but most stories aren’t like that.
Most narratives have a clear start and finish point, and if you show your best cards in season one, you’ve got nowhere to go. Not having an idea with enough legs for a multi-season arc isn’t exactly a death sentence. You might just need to think differently.
Could you retool your idea as a mini-series, a film, a novel? You need to consider the scope of your project and what medium will give it the best shot at life.
It’s time to be honest with yourself.
If you’re dead-set on developing an idea for a continuing series, but your story only has enough scope for one great season – is the idea really viable?
Do I even care about this story?
This might seem like it contradicts the previous points – it does and it doesn’t.
Do you have an amazing idea that hits all of the previous points but you just have no passion for it? Now imagine that idea gets commissioned...
Do you really want to spend years of your life working on a project you don’t care about?
Just because an idea seems viable, it doesn’t mean you have to be the one to do it. If it isn’t a story you want to tell, then you might be better served packaging the idea and passing it off to someone else who wants to tell that story.
If you’re stuck between two ideas then focus on the story you HAVE to tell. The one you will regret not putting out into the world.
You will do this idea the most justice and audiences respond to authenticity. Follow the idea that feeds your soul and the type of artist you want to be.
Is this something I would watch?
This one leads back to authenticity.
What shows do you want to see on the air? What is something you feel is a niche to be filled, or something you crave from a TV series that you aren’t seeing?
You might have a few viable ideas, so chose the one you would want to watch the most. Ask your friends, family or peers to find out what kinds of shows they want to see more of.
For me, personally, the idea I have chosen to develop was born from my desire to see another show on the air that was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I have never seen another show that hits all the same marks for me as Buffy did. I want to create something that has the same tone, hits the same sense of nostalgia, gives me characters I can root for – warts and all.
So, there you have it – 5 easy ways to decide which ideas to develop. Go forth with that red pen and subtract!
Thank you for reading. Make sure to leave a comment and share this with other writers.
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