How do screenwriters conceptualize and develop cinematic stories in their screenplays? Enter The Big Bang Screenwriting Theory.
One of the most common questions writers get is, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
It’s never an easy question to answer. The sister post to The Big Bang Screenwriting Theory — 7 Places Writers Find Amazing Story Concepts — explains where writers can go to find those important story and concept seeds. But the process of taking those seeds and developing them into a feature film or television series concept is a much more intricate process.
And we’re not talking about structure, story beats, and all of those screenwriting academic terms and methodology. We’re looking deeper into the conceptualization that happens within the screenwriter’s creative mind and imagination.
Here we turn to science — specifically The Big Bang Theory — for some possible answers by adapting Space.com’s The Universe: Big Bang to Now in 10 Easy Steps and applying it to a specific screenwriting theory that can help explain how ideas are developed and conceptualized. And screenwriters can use this theory we’ve adapted to better understand the process that their mind goes through when an idea is sparked, and a seed is planted.
So with that in mind, let’s venture off into space for some exploration. But not the outer space that we see as we look up towards the night sky — instead, the space within our imagination, where worlds are created with the start of a big bang.
1. How It All Starts
Concerning the creation of the universe, The Big Bang was not a single exposition in space. It was the initial appearance of space throughout the universe. According to The Big Bang Theory, the universe was born as a very hot, very dense, single point in space.
Think of this as the canvas. Without a place for the universe to be created, there is no universe.
Now imagine that visual existing within the screenwriter’s mind — which we can easily interpret as the imagination.
When you decide that you want to begin a new screenplay, you open your mind to what you want to write. Because you are trying to break into the film and television industry, you are likely searching for a concept that will entice industry insiders to take a chance on you. To do that, you need to make a strong impression. And that strong impression has to be an idea or concept that is engaging and compelling.
So the moment you open your mind to finding that enthralling idea or concept, your Big Bang has begun. You’ve created a canvas to work from.
2. Your Screenwriting Universe’s First Growth Spurt
When the universe was first created, it underwent an enormous growth spurt. During this explosion of expansion, known as inflation, the universe doubled in size close to a hundred times, rapidly expanding outwards.
After this initial inflation, the universe continued to grow. As that space expanded, the universe cooled and matter began to form.
The same thing happens in your imagination. Your screenwriting universe was created in that first step of forming that blank canvas. Now, as you begin to consider stories and characters and start to search for those great ideas and concepts, this inflation starts. And it grows and grows as your imagination begins to explore the many prospects that come and go.
When you’re searching for the next great concept, all of the possibilities that flow through your mind comprise that inflation happening within your screenwriting universe. Matter begins to form. Some matter is more prominent than others.
Some concepts fall flat. Others capture your interest more. And that screenwriting universe begins to slow down a bit as your imagination is drawn toward specific points that stand out amongst the rest.
3. Too Hot to Shine Just Yet
In space, post-Big Bang, light chemical elements were created early on in the universe’s formation — within just minutes. As our universe expanded, the temperatures began to cool, and the protons and neutrons began to collide, creating deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. Helium was later formed.
But the universe didn’t shine just yet. For the first 380,000 years, the intense heat from the creation of the universe made it too hot for light to shine. Atoms were crashing together with enough force to break up into a dense, opaque plasma of protons, neutrons, and electrons that scattered light like fog.
In the screenwriting universe, your imagination is creating a similar series of collisions. You have different genre possibilities in your mind. You’ve hopefully ingested books, movies, and TV shows, looking for inspiration and giving your creative mind the content that it needs to create visuals to inhabit your universe — visuals, themes, ideas, and concepts that collide at a rapid pace.
You have many ideas and concepts coming into your imagination and then morphing and evolving into different things depending on what they each collide with.
But all of these elements are too hot to shine just yet.
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4. Let There Be Light
After roughly 380,000 years, matter within the universe cooled to the point where electrons began to combine with nuclei to form neutral atoms — a phase known as recombination — and the absorption of free electrons caused the universe to become transparent. The light was then unleashed, which today is detectable in the form of radiation from the cosmic microwave background.
However, this recombination was followed by a period of darkness well before stars, and other bright objects, were formed.
In the screenwriting universe you’ve created within your imagination, ideas and concepts are beginning to take form. You’re getting a sense of the prospects you may be taking on. Some concepts are brighter than others, depending upon what you’ve decided you’d like to be attracted to most.
You may want to explore a particular genre. You may want to develop a feature film or TV series. You may want to write a high concept film or explore something smaller and more personal.
So while there me be light within your screenwriting universe, you haven’t gotten to the point where ideas are fully formed. There’s still a period of darkness before the stars and galaxies are fully developed.
5. Emerging From Your Screenwriting Universe’s Dark Age
The universe began to come out of the cosmic dark ages about 400 million years after the Big Bang — a period known as the age of re-ionization.
The very first stars and galaxies were formed as clumps of gas collapsed to a certain point. Ultraviolet light from these events erased and destroyed neutral hydrogen gas. This process of re-ionization, including the clearing of foggy hydrogen gas, made the universe finally transparent to ultraviolet light.
In your screenwriting universe, similar events happen. You begin to further see the stars and galaxies (ideas and concepts). As mentioned before, some shine brighter than others, depending upon what interests you most, as well as the criteria you’ve applied to what you want to write.
But as these prospects attract you and your imagination, the time of choosing specific solar systems (scripts) is still a bit far off.
6. More Stars and More Galaxies
Data from missions like WMAP, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), and the Hubble Space Telescope help scientists solve the many mysteries and answer the most debated questions of space and the universe’s creation. These missions helped expand our sight as we discovered more and more stars and galaxies.
In the screenwriting universe that has been created, all of these ideas and concepts remain. The screenwriting Big Bang has given birth to many prospects — prospects that you can explore throughout your whole screenwriting career.
7. The Birth of Your Solar System
Our solar system is estimated to be about 4.6 billion years old. According to contemporary estimates, the sun is just one of more than 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone.
It is theorized that our solar system was formed from a single immense rotating cloud of gas and dust known as the solar nebula. As gravity forced the nebula to collapse, it began to spin faster and faster until it flattened into a disk. Most of the material was pulled toward the center to form the sun during this phase.
When you choose a solar system (script) that attracts you most, it begins to form. It takes all of the nearby content you’ve ingested and begins to create the center concept (the sun), as well as planets (characters) and moons (secondary characters). And the way those elements of your chosen “solar system” exist together — gravity, rotation, revolution — comprises your story points.
And those elements will collide (conflict) and affect one another, creating a symbiotic system. The destruction of one (editing) affects the other.
And before you know it, the solar system is created, ever-evolving (multiple drafts) depending upon the different stages and eras of the script, who reads it, who offers notes, and who the script is eventually attached to.
8. The Invisible Stuff
Dark matter is thought to make up 23 percent of the universe. Theories state that this mysterious matter may be formed by exotic particles that we have yet to understand. They don’t emit light and interact with regular matter within the universe. Stars, planets, and people only inhabit 4 percent of the regular matter within the universe.
Dark matter, this invisible wonder, almost seems like the unknown gell that keeps the universe together, somehow. But there’s little to no explanation of what that dark matter truly is.
In the screenwriting universes that screenwriters create, dark matter exists as well. We could refer to it as the magic that pieces a solar system, or our screenwriting universes as a whole, together.
Capturing lightning in a bottle is difficult. Some scripts seem like surefire hits, only to fail miserably for any number of reasons. Others seem to come out of nowhere and attract major studios, companies, and talent.
Since we can’t pinpoint that invisible and mysterious matter, the most we can do is explore our imagination — our screenwriting universe — and wait for what attracts us the most.
That’s how you find those ideas and projects that you eventually write.
The Big Bang Screenwriting Theory attempts to take what we’ve learned about the creation of the outer universe we inhabit and apply it to how your imagination works when it comes to screenwriting.
You first create a universe by opening your imagination up, thus creating a canvas for the ideas and concepts to come.
You then begin that inflation phase as your imagination considers multiple ideas, concepts, stories, and characters. Your mind processes all of these possibilities at a rapid pace, expanding your screenwriting universe.
You let that expansion take hold and grow.
You wait for prospects to show their light, attracting you in towards them as you begin to explore their worth.
As they continue to grow and expand, you become more and more attracted to particular areas of your screenwriting universe.
More and more solid prospects form.
And then you find that particular “solar system” that shows the most potential and pulls you in with its strong gravity. You populate that solar system with protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters, plot points, and story arcs. As this happens, conflict is created, forming your solar system even more with obstacles, barriers, twists, turns, and revelations. Until, finally, your solar system is fully formed.
Yet you can’t fully explain how this all came to be because of that dark matter, the invisible stuff, that works in magical ways. You have no control over it. You have to explore your screenwriting universe, find your particular solar system, and let the magic take hold in between the space and matter you’ve created.
That’s how screenwriters conceptualize and develop cinematic stories in their screenplays.
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 multiple writing assignments, 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