How to Choose Your Next Screenwriting Project


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

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It’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting spark of a brand new idea, but jumping into a project too quickly can result in running out of gas before you reach the end of the script. Sometimes you fall out of love with the idea, sometimes you realize it’s not aligned with your bigger screenwriting goals, and other times you find that the idea doesn’t hold up as well as you initially thought.

No writing is wasted, of course, but it’s frustrating to find yourself partway in yet feeling like it might be pointless to keep going.

So. Today I want to give you some tips for avoiding that outcome.

Whether you’re starting with several possible ideas and feeling overwhelmed about which to choose, or if a shiny new idea just popped into your head and you’re eager to start but worried it will soon join your collection of unfinished projects…

Today’s post is for you. Let’s talk about a few steps you can take to set yourself up for success.

Step 1: Collect all of your ideas

The shiny new ones are probably top of mind, but I’d bet you also have a stash of other ideas you’ve gathered along the way. They might not be fully formed yet, or they might be news stories or titles or other sources of inspiration. That’s fine. As with any good brainstorm, now isn’t the time to judge. Just gather all of the things you could possibly write next.

And if you don’t already have a stash of ideas and want to generate new ones? Try these exercises – they’re fun, I swear, and you’ll have a bunch of new ideas in no time.

Step 2: Is there a story there?

For each of your potential projects, think about whether there’s a story there that could actually sustain a feature script. If you’re having trouble thinking that through, of if you’re starting with just a spark of inspiration, you might need to do a bit of shaping for some of your ideas before you can really evaluate them.

You don’t need to go down a full development rabbit hole yet, though. You need just enough to give you a sense of whether the idea could be developed.

Try one of these three ways:

Write a “what’s it about” essential concept line.

Even more basic than a logline, this method is a means to identify the essential core of the story so that you can gauge whether there’s enough there for a screenplay.

For example, Goonies is about a group of kids in search of lost treasure. Erin Brockovich is about a woman who exposes a big company poisoning a small town. Taken is about a guy trying to save his daughter from kidnappers.

In each of these essential concept lines, we can see a robust enough story that you could write an entire movie about it. Each concept involves someone doing something big, audacious, dangerous. There’s conflict and stakes (some more obvious than others). And we can tell these aren’t stories that will be easily resolved with one quick action.

Write a mini brain dump.

Just as I’ve talked about starting a new project with a brain dump, I think this can be a useful exercise when you’re exploring a bunch of new ideas. The whole point of a brain dump is just to sort of see what you know about the idea, and at this early stage that can help you evaluate whether it’s something you want to pursue immediately or let it percolate further.

With a mini brain dump, I’d recommend a few more constraints. A time limit is a good idea. A few particular areas of focus (like the foundation elements, for example). Since you’re trying to evaluate a bunch of ideas somewhat quickly, the idea here is to brainstorm around the big pieces and broad strokes, and just enough so that you can see what you have and whether it’s a movie you could write.

Write a logline.

If those basic elements and broad strokes are already somewhat clear in your mind, a quick way to vet a concept is by writing a logline. If you’re unfamiliar with how to write a solid logline quickly, there’s a short (usually free) book all about it on Amazon, Apple Books, and other platforms. (It even includes a bunch of templates to make writing your logline even easier.)

Step 3: Decision time! Choose your next screenplay

Now that you have an idea of exactly what each potential project entails, it’s time to choose the one you want to move forward with.

But how do you know which one is the “right” one to work on?

A few factors to consider:

+ Look at each idea and think about whether it’s really a movie, or if it might be better suited for another medium. If you want to write a movie, you want to start with an idea that’s meant to be a movie. If any of your potential projects make more sense as a series or a novel or something else, set those aside for now. (Of course, if you want to write a pilot right now, then make a list of those instead!)

+ Think about your goals as a writer. Are you just starting out, trying to write your first screenplay? Then you might want to choose a more straightforward idea that sets you up for success. (Success being finishing the script, since you learn more by finishing one script than starting 10!) Or maybe you’re shifting the direction of your career, so you want to write something that speaks to your new “brand” as a writer.

Figure out what you want your next writing project to accomplish for you, and then weigh your list of projects against that goal. Some will fit the purpose more than others.

+ Passion can carry you far, and writing a screenplay is more of a marathon than a sprint. (It’s always a longer process than you think it’s going to be!) So weigh your enthusiasm for each project. Which ones make you excited to dive in right now?

Those criteria should help you narrow down the options. If you still have a few in contention you might try pitching them to a writer or industry friend to get a fresh perspective on how well each one fits the parameters above.

Some writers get stuck right here. They like all of their ideas and feel torn between them. That’s okay! In fact, it’s great if you love your ideas. But you can probably only write one at a time. One at a time. That means you need to work on one now, and just know that you’re not saying ‘goodbye’ to your other ideas, you’re simply saying ‘see you later.’

But if you don’t choose one and begin to move forward, will you ever actually write any of them?

Choose one. Write it. Repeat.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.