Concepts are a dime a dozen. It’s relatively easy to conjure ideas for stories. And while not every concept needs a murder plot, the following is a fun game to brainstorm story concepts.
Writers can find them through a number of exercises — big and small, simple and complex. Some writers wait until the concepts come to them in moments of inspiration. Others go to movies, watch great television, and read novels, hoping that imagery and storylines will jump start that inspiration.
Many will sit with pen and paper or fingers to keyboard and write any random ideas and “What If” scenarios that come to mind. They may create hybrids of dozens of ideas they imagine — mixing and matching as they search for that stand out gem.
On March 2nd, 2017, author Marc Laidlaw tweeted:
The tweet gained over 4,429 retweets and 900 replies (and counting).
Acclaimed author and screenwriter Neil Gaiman was clearly taken in by the tweet, quickly playing the game himself through Twitter and coining the practice #LaidlawsRule.
The interesting notion of this brilliant exercise is that one simple sentence or different perspective can change the whole dynamic of any given concept that screenwriters evoke. A children’s story or historical piece of history can take a rather dark turn by adding “And then the murders began” as the second line after the opening sentence of whichever book it’s applied to.
Oftentimes when screenwriters are listing those simple “What If” scenarios to explore, they only create the very basic beginning elements of a concept — simple situations, scenarios, and settings. It’s not until those simple added details are applied when a true great and engaging concept is born. And as we know, in Hollywood, concept is everything. Concept — usually present in loglines — is what entices Hollywood to read scripts. The concept is the first selling point during all stages, whether it’s getting that first read, that development executive passing it along to the studios and financiers, or producers taking it out to actors and directors as they try to package the film. Yes, concept is such a vital point of entry for all of those involved in Hollywood. Thus, screenwriters must choose and develop their concepts very wisely.
The idea of Laidlaw’s Rule opens up the possibilities of how and where screenwriters can bring more weight to their concepts. It’s not to say that all stories have to lead to murder. That’s not the point. What we’re saying here is that this “game” can get screenwriters to look at things from many different angles. It can inspire screenwriters to take chances, to think outside of the box, and find ways to take otherwise ordinary concepts and twist and turn them into something better.
With that in mind, here we present our own selection of the best Laidlaw’s Rule applications that screenwriters can read to jump start their own imaginations and conceptualizations, followed by a way that screenwriters can directly apply what we’ve learned from those examples, but in the context of developing cinematic concepts through writing loglines.
Feel free to share this and chime in through the comments section with your own creative takes on Laidlaw’s Rule.
“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. And then the murders began.” – Cat in the Hat
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. And then the murders began.” – Alice in Wonderland
“This is George. He lived in Africa. And then the murders began.” – Curious George
“It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips. And then the murders began.” – The Jungle Book
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. And then the murders began.” – Charlotte’s Web
“‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. And then the murders began.” – Little Women
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy. And then the murders began.” – The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything. And then the murders began.” – Where the Wild Things Are
“One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. And then the murders began.” – The Very Hungry Caterpillar
“Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. And then the murders began.” – Paddington Bear
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. And then the murders began.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
“Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by everyone who looked at her, but most of all by her grandmother, and there was nothing that she would not have given to the child. And then the murders began.” – Little Red Riding Hood
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. And then the murders began.” – The Outsiders
“Once upon a time there was a pair of pants. And then the murders began.” – The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants
“Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. And then the murders began.” – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
“Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura traveled in a covered wagon across the giant prairie. And then the murders began.” – Little House on the Prairie
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. And then the murders began.” – The Old Man and the Sea
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. And then the murders began.” – The Great Gatsby
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. And then the murders began.” – Moby Dick
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. And then the murders began.” – A Tale of Two Cities
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. And then the murders began.” – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. And then the murders began.” – To Kill a Mockingbird
The screenwriting version of this game is simple. Come up with an engaging sentence that you can apply to any concept from any genre — anything that carries enough weight to alter them and force you, the screenwriter, to look at such possible stories differently, as we’ve seen with the example’s of Laidlaw’s Rule above.
As we’re not working with literary opening lines, we instead apply them to the concept vessels known as loglines. Here are just a few to get you — and your loglines — started:
In the vacuum of space…
On a distant world…
As he mourns his family’s sudden and violent death…
As her inner thoughts are heard by all…
As he hides a deep, dark secret…
As a man in black follows her every step…
As the clock to his untimely death ticks…
Guest blogger Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as two writing assignments with Larry Levinson Productions, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies