Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ideas: Don't Stop with One Good Idea

Technique Tuesday

Animator Patrick Smith, writing at Scribble Junkies, shared some of John Lasseter's advice in a post on the 7 Creative Principles of Pixar.

The first principle is, "Never come up with just one idea."

Here's how John explains it:
“Regardless of whether you want to write a book, design a piece of furniture or make an animated movie: At the beginning, don’t start with just one idea – it should be three.

“The reason is simple. If a producer comes to me with a proposal for a new project, then usually he has mulled over this particular idea for a very long time. That limits him. My answer always reads: 'Come again when you have three ideas, and I don’t mean one good and two bad. I want three really good ideas, of which you cannot decide the best. You must be able to defend all three before me. Then we’ll decide which one you’ll realize.'

“The problem with creative people is that they often focus their whole attention on one idea. So, right at the beginning of a project, you unnecessarily limit your options. Every creative person should try that out. You will be surprised how this requirement suddenly forces you to think about things you hadn’t even considered before. Through this detachment, you suddenly gain new perspectives. And believe me, there are always three good ideas. At least.”
The first key here, and it bears repeating, is, "this requirement suddenly forces you to think about things your hadn't even considered before." There are a lot of people out there having good ideas. If you stop with your first good idea, chances are very good that someone has already thought of it. But with each additional good idea you bring to the table, the chance of someone else thinking of the exact same ideas drops dramatically.

The second key is the perspective you gain through detachment. That is, if you have more than one good idea then you've got a fall-back if one of the ideas proves less good than you thought. More importantly, you can compare and contrast the ideas and get a better sense of their relative merits than if you have only one, precious idea ... gollum.

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. Yes Yes Yes. Illuminating post. Thanks.

  2. I like this philosophy. It would work with each new scene, too.

  3. In the context of the Pixar comments, I understood the advice about at least three good ideas to serve as insurance that they really were investing all that time and energy into the best idea.

    But you make a very good point, Deb, and for the opposite structural reason: scenes are cheep, compared to then scope of the entire project and so you can afford to try several approaches.

    I suspect a substantial part of revisions amounts to the same thing: trying different approaches to key scenes. Doing so on the first draft won't guarantee that it will be perfect, but it will probably reduce the number of scenes that have to be reworked in revisions.


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