This post, by author and screenwriter Marshall Thornton, originally appeared on his blog on 2/7/09.
I’ve come to believe that there are no such thing as bad ideas. Yes, Tom Green did make a movie called Freddy Got Fingered and that was a bad idea. But, Tom Green in himself is not necessarily a bad idea. Nor is a story of a young man who falsely accuses his father of sexually molesting his younger brother a bad idea. It’s only by putting them together that you come up with something that didn’t make a lot of sense.
And that’s the thing that writers have to remember. Your ideas need to belong together. You can’t just string a bunch of good ideas together and expect the whole thing to be great.
Each idea, each part of your story, has to have an organic and, hopefully, thematic connection to the rest. By organic I mean that the ideas have to arise out of your main character – they have to be things he or she would actually do. If your main character is an unrepentant liar, they can tell the truth – at the very end of your story. They can’t lie one minute and tell the truth the next. Even if it seems like a good idea on a scene by scene basis.
The same goes for theme. Your theme can’t be, say, the elusive nature of truth at one point and then abruptly shift over to the damage dishonesty does to relationships. Keeping your theme on track is particularly difficult in longer forms, like a novel. But when it comes to theme it is important to stick to one idea.
Read more of Marshall’s blog posts, and learn more about his work as an author and screenwriter, here.