The Controlling Idea

Crafting a controlling idea for your film story is challenging. Don’t get too hung up trying to articulate it at the premise stage. As with modern writing theory, in screenwriting we often need to work our way into our idea to see what we’re really writing about. So, revisit your controlling idea again and again. After you do your scene cards/step outline, reconsider your controlling idea. Try to refine it. Try again during and after writing your treatment. Refine it during and after writing the first draft of your script. Even when you think you’ve nailed your controlling idea, you may find yourself refining it. It’s amazing how hard it is for us to discern what our own stories are about. Keep at it! Try to put it into one sentence – ending value of your story plus the chief cause for arriving there. Punch-Drunk Love might be – Barry Eagan becomes the man he dreams of being when true love finds him. Or, manhood is realized through true love. You see? You can articulate it a number of ways. McKee gives many examples of controlling ideas in Story.

This has to be said sooner or later – write on.

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