There is a coffee shop I went to not too long ago, tucked beneath a condo. After going multiple times I came to a realization; This coffee shop was exceptionally generic. It was the epiphany of catering to culture by being as generic as possible, hitting all the right “cues.” The name, the atmosphere, the menu, the coffee, all held the appearance of being a coffee shop, but it didn’t take long to realize it was a mock up. I ordered some fancy flavored drink and it tasted like nothing, there were so many flavors that were sort of in there, that nothing stood out, and it just tasted bland. That sums up the entire coffee shop.
This weekend I went to see a movie that I had high hopes for, and instead of seeing something moving and powerful, I saw a movie that felt exceptionally generic. The story played out in a perfect formula, the music came in at the perfect time, the actors said all the perfect words at the perfect time. Sure it was a perfect execution of a film, but it was not a film.
One lesson I’ve learned from screenwriting is the power of being specific. When I start developing a character, I could say “A movie about man trying to save his family” and it sounds like every movie you’ve ever seen. But get specific such as, “A police officer with a secret criminal background is threatened to commit a crime or watch his family die,” and suddenly this father/family relationship becomes charged with possibilities.
The more complex a character/story is layered with motive and development, the stronger the opportunity to break away from generic concepts. Instead it opens the doors to endless ways to relate to this man with questions and choices that breath life into an otherwise generic concept about a father and his family.
Don’t fall into the trap of becoming exceptionally generic because of laziness. Take the effort and time to invest in developing specific ideas worthy of an audience's time. Creating is so much more than hitting all the right social cues, and so much more about putting more of yourself into it by honing in on what you really want to say. Make it count.