To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. - Oscar Wilde

There are stories in all of us, and the old adage "write what you know" is always a good place to begin and keep coming back to. It only makes sense to steal and/or elaborate from your own experiences. Getting these stories out and onto paper is the root of screenwriting and writing.

Before I had children of my own, I avoided writing screenplay with kids as main characters. I didn't understand the complexities of the parent/child relationship, at least not from the parent's point of view. Now, however, children are an intricate part of my everyday life, so writing about them is much easier. I simply write what I know.

This isn't to say that you as you explore your screenwriting journey and grow as a screenwriter should never explore material that you don't know intimately, but again use logic as your guide. If you never watch rom-coms, why are you going to write one? If you're not into sci-fi, why are you going to set your world on another planet? But remember that knowledge is also your experience. You may never have been in the military or stepped foot in Iraq, but if you do the research - interview people who have and read everything you can get your hands on - your knowledge is the learning experience that is necessary to begin writing the screenplay.

One way I like to think about story development is by illustrating personal growth through an individual's box of knowledge. Everyone has one. Your box is simply what you know. And if you ask ten questions, you're bound to find some answers. Say you find three. Well now, your box has expanded. You know more, but you feel like you know less because you still have seven questions unanswered, and the three answers you discovered opened the door to ten more questions each. Therefore, even though you clearly have more knowledge (and a bigger box), you also have 37 more questions, and not knowing those answers is frustrating.

Story development functions precisely the same way. The root of writing a good story comes down to asking questions and fighting through the frustrations as you do the hard work to discover the answers. 

The basic spine of any successful screenplay is character, objective, obstacles, and theme. A good story is about an interesting protagonist (character), who wants something badly (objective) and is having trouble achieving it (obstacles), and the story is worth writing because it illustrates some kind of universal message (theme). 

But in order for successful development to occur, use a story questionnaire, explore story scenarios, and literally ask your way to uncover the answers that will guide you through your story. These questions and answers will guide you through your screenwriting and writing journey. 

Top 10 Central Themes in Film

Don’t reinvent the wheel. You’ve heard the phrase a million times, and never does it ring as true as when applied to screenwriting. Often, you will hear people complain that it feels like they have seen the same movie 100 times, only this time with different actors and a new title. It’s true. Most movies do tell the same story over and over again. Few movies differentiate themselves by creating a revolutionary storyline. Yes, it is common for films to center around the same theme. However, there is no need for dismay; just because a ton of movies are about the same thing doesn’t mean they are all the same movie. For example, take Due Date. The story is practically a carbon copy of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Both films have identical story lines, similar characters, and the same motifs. Yet, the two films are clearly different. It’s not the story itself, but the way the story is told that makes a movie great. Listed below are the top 10 themes/motifs used in film. These themes serve as a staple to the underlying plots of most films. The most common themes in films describe an opinion about society, human nature, or life in general. And while you’re getting ready to scoff at Hollywood for using the same themes repeatedly, think about how amazing it is that the same kinds of stories can be told in so many different ways. And while most of the repeated adaptations are lackluster, every so often one triumphantly takes the world by storm. So, take a look at the most common themes and motifs in film. And embrace the wheel. It’s there for a reason.…


Theme: Three Points

There was a time when I wasn’t so sure a theme was necessary in writing a good screenplay. All you needed was an interesting character, who wanted something badly, and was having trouble getting it. That was it. If we had someone to cheer for, with a clear goal, and lots of conflict and obstacles, the script would work.  And if someone asked, “What’s it about?” I would dish out a logline: “It’s a comedy about a nice guy who turns to a scheming lady’s man to help transform him into a womanizing jerk in order to win the girl of his dreams.“…


Story Questionnaire

1. Who is your main character? Hero? Anti-hero? 2. Why should we be interested in them? 3. What attracts you to your protagonist? Do you like them? Loathe them? 4. Why do you need to write about them? 5. Why should we be excited about them?…


Sign up for our newsletter!
  • Screenwriting tips to guide you through your writing
  • Industry news and movie reviews
  • Important updates on screenwriting functions and events
  • Get TSL's Encyclopedia of Screenwriting e-book FREE

Wait! We've got a secret.


Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you TWO of our e-books, completely free:

220 Plot Point Breakdowns (new!)


TSL's Encyclopedia of Screenwriting