Criteria For An Oscar Winning Idea

Choice Making Is At The Heart Of Creative Expression

By Daniel Dercksen, writing coach and mentor

Criteria for an Oscar winning IdeaChasing your dream to write the ultimate award-winning screenplay can turn into a nightmare if your story  is not built on a rock solid idea.

What all winning screenplays have in common is a great idea.  

And what all winning ideas have in common are important elements that make them worthy of accolades and awards.

Many beginning writers don’t understand how important it is to be original. Reading hundreds of scripts and listening to thousands of pitches showed me how most of them were derivative of other movies, with familiar characters, uninteresting ideas, and clichéd plot twists. Beginning writers tend to develop the easiest idea that comes to mind, rather than working hard to generate original ones.

Karl Iglesias, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters

Criteria for Great Ideas Forms Part of Our The Write Journey Course

If you want to build your story on a solid idea, this is what you need to take into consideration when coming up with an idea to write your story:

Significant Issues

In the 20th Century four major issues have governed screenwriting and screenplays:

  • The Notion of God  – religious and spiritual issues
  • Democracy – freedom
  • Male/ Female relationships
  • Issues of identity in terms of class, culture and sexuality

A Resonant Theme

Most stories that are dramatically successful, have resonance, and are universally relevant, express some underlying idea that has universal appeal for audiences and readers, who can identify with the characters and situations.

  • What is the Thematic Purpose of your story?
  • What are you trying to say by writing your story?
  • What is your point of view?

The theme is the glue that holds your story together and resonates throughout the telling of your story.

A true theme is not a word, but a sentence,” states McKee in his book STORY. “One clear, coherent sentence that expresses a story’s irreducible meaning. The Controlling Idea shapes the writer’s strategic choices.  It’s yet another Creative Discipline to guide your aesthetic choices toward what is appropriate or inappropriate in your story.

Robert Mc Kee, Story

Something in mind

Don’t pick ideas where most of the drama or comedy happens in the mind. Don’t select boring heroes whose inner conflicts are not easily dramatised, verbalised and visualised.


The idea must promise conflict. That is the heart and soul of screenwriting. 

Conflict can mean:

  • A problem to be solved
  • An obstacle to be overcome
  • A threat to be handled
  • A decision to be made
  • A challenge to be met

Sex and violence

In his Screenwriting 434, Lew Hunter says that a painter has three primary colours on his palette: red, blue and yellow. As a screenwriter you have two primary emotional colours: sex and violence.

This does not mean the horror-slasher genre. Look at the plot lines of such classics as Medea, Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, King Lear, and works by Ibsen, anything by Tennessee Williams, and Shakespeare.

In screenplay terms, the words sex and violence means sensuality and dramatic action, not blood and gore and naked bodies.

The most extreme form of violence is psychological violence. Even in The Sound of Music: the Nazi’s were the overall threat and the feelings between Maria and the children’s father were sensual. Make sure your idea has the potential for sex and violence.


Will the story be interesting for an hour and a half to two hours? Is it the type of the story the public will pay to see? Will it be interesting two years from today when the film will go into production?

Something that hasn’t been done before

Is it something already being done on television? Remember that everything has been done before. It’s not what you do but how you do it.

Also, consider this when coming up with ideas

Can you possibly get it sold?

If you do sell it, you do. If you don’t, you’ve created another property for your inventory. Even if any of the screenplays you write on speculation never sell, you must love the process. That should be more important to you than acceptance or sale. Make your principal reward the very act of writing

A screenplay that is good for you to write

Focus on the best development of your potential. Will your idea serve the necessary end? When you’re a new screenwriter you must ask yourself if the idea will significantly help you develop your potential. Can you best learn from this screenplay?  Will it show people what a good writer you are? A “calling card” screenplay? The calling card screenplay can be submitted to show someone that you can write their project or your idea. It is important for the new writer to have a calling card screenplay.


You should always say:

  • That’s the idea I want to do.
  • That’s the idea I can do.
  • That’s the idea I believe is worth doing.

Before and after want, can and worth comes quality.

Does my idea promise quality? Demand for yourself quality.

Effective medium

Can the idea be communicated better by a novel or stageplay? Pick the most effective medium.

Criteria for Great Ideas Form Part of Our The Write Journey Course

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