Daydream your way to great ideas for your movie

 In Screenwriting courses, Tips for Writers

‘Where do you get your ideas?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions on our screenwriting course.  Aspiring writers hope to be told that there is a magic formula; that ideas can be conjured up by some kind of alchemy or a secret technique. And the truth is, they are absolutely right. There is a very simple technique, one that any child could demonstrate.

Okay, so you don’t buy it.

Let me explain.

My daughter is an artist. At present, she has a show of paintings at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town.  Now this aside might seem like an unnecessary digression, or worse an excuse to boast about my brilliant offspring, but bear with me, it is relevant to this discussion.  The Zeitz MOCAA curator invited Dr Carla Freeman, a senior lecturer in the Division of Neuropsychiatry at UCT, to deliver a talk on memory and forgetting in relation my daughter’s paintings, which address intangible subjects like memory and nostalgia.

Dr Freeman explained how some details become foregrounded in the memory while others remain vague, or even forgotten.  This is why two people may experience the same incident, yet have completely different memories of what happened (Being a crime writer, I did a short online course on forensics, so I know all about the unreliability of eye-witness testimonies!) Most of the laying down of memories happens during sleep, when the neurons in the hippocampus are activated over and over again in a process of consolidation. These selective fragments form our sense of self and of the world, unique, original, and completely unknowable by another.

As a writer it makes perfect sense to me that we literally shape the narratives of our lives as we sleep. Movies and dreams are inextricably linked. Many films even have the look and quality of a dream. Budding writers are usually those children who were always being chastised in class for shirking their lessons and ‘day-dreaming’. But there are interesting things going on in the child’s brain during this ‘zoning out’. Daydreaming sits somewhere between a conscious and dreaming state, allowing the unconscious to filter images and thoughts into a free-associative space where countless creative ideas arise.

In a sense this is the same zone accessed by a practiced meditator, except the meditator will focus on a single image or mantra. This single focus can allow the meditator to harness a state of drift and concentration simultaneously. David Lynch attributes his remarkable imagination to the practice of Transcendental Meditation, during which ideas come to him ‘in fragments… like a mosaic’.

Our screenwriting courses are very comprehensive in introducing you to the theory of screenwriting, and the technical skills required, but it is you who create the stories and characters and plots. We like to encourage our participants to rediscover ‘daydreaming’ as a source of ideas.

Each individual perceives his or her idea of life through the prism of memory, which is why when we give our participants a writing exercise, the range of stories and characters and themes is always astonishingly diverse and original. It is thrilling to see how participants draw on their own memories and experiences in their work.

In a sense that’s why we call our work facilitating, rather than teaching.

Of course, ideas are one thing, getting them into a readable form is a slog. Daydreaming alone will not write a scene, or develop a story from idea to movie script. You need to harness those ideas, to form and structure them.

But if you’re looking for a great idea for a character, or idea, or scene for a film, imagine yourself back in the stultifying boredom of the classroom. Remember how you escaped the monotony of those dreary hours. Instead of feeling like an unforgivable slacker, just allow yourself to happily drift away. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to be ‘creative’.  Trust the process and relax. After a while, you will notice how fragments of ideas begin to surface, like marvelous subterranean creatures from the sea of your imagination.

Join our Screenwriting Crash course to learn the practical skills of screenwriting and turn your daydreams into a script.


Image (c) Ruby Swinney

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