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Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Screenplay Development

Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Screenplay Development

Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Sceenplay Development

A dream, within a dream, within a dream.  It’s a complex idea brought to life in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film, Inception.

I believe, many of the ideas portrayed in the film can be applied to the world of screenwriting.  For example, the film is based on the idea that true inspiration can be broken down to one simple idea.  An idea that takes hold of you.

A screenplay also begins with a very simple idea.  An idea that takes hold and sparks your imagination.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a concept, a premise, a location, a character or a single sentence.  What matters is your NEED to develop your idea.

In order for it to become an entertaining screenplay, you have to go deeper.  Like Inception, this theory is based on 3 levels that become more and more complex the deeper you go.


Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Sceenplay Development

LEVEL 1: Structure

  • Proper formatting
  • Efficient use of white space
  • Economical descriptions
  • Flawless spelling & grammar
  • Overall flow

A screenplay HAS to be more than just the words on the page.  It has to be an entertaining story with engaging characters & memorable moments.  However, readers will never experience everything your screenplay has to offer if you fail on Level 1.

You have to eliminate every possible distraction so the reader can focus on the story you’re trying to tell.   Poor grammar and sloppy structure will kill any momentum your script builds.

Achieve perfection on level 1 and you’ll encourage the reader to go deeper.

Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Sceenplay Development

LEVEL 2: Story

  • Original characters
  • Unique setting
  • Dynamic relationships
  • High stakes/Obstructed paths
  • Entertaining plot

You have to deliver a story worth reading.  This level is where inspiration truly lies.  You can tell any story you want.  Every twist is your decision.  Every character is born of your imagination.  Every single word you choose should convey your vision perfectly.

Is your story entertaining?  If there is even the slightest doubt, you have the ability to rewrite it until it represents your absolute best.  Being creative is as liberating as it is fun.  Reading your screenplay should be entertaining.  Your passion should seep through the pages and into your reader’s heart.

Only then will they truly discover the 3rd level.

Screenplay Inception: The 3 Levels Of Sceenplay Development

LEVEL 3: Meaning

  • Engaging world
  • Characters that grow & change
  • Memorable moments
  • A clear message
  • Something more

If you’ve succeeded in perfecting the first two levels, every reader will finish your script.  Now it’s your job to make sure they REMEMBER it!  How do you want your screenplay to resonate with readers?  What moments will they remember?  You want your reader to think about every subtle detail you included.  You want them to digest your story and ponder it’s meaning.

You want them to love the experience of every page.


In Inception, a totem is the only way a character can tell if they are dreaming or not.  When it comes to screenwriting, you want that top to spin forever.  Your screenplay doesn’t exist unless you write it.  To do that, you have to dream big.  You have the freedom to create whatever you want and the deeper you go, the more you’ll care about the story.  You’re creating an entire world with characters, rules, action, excitement, laughter, tears, romance, suspense and more.

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger.”


In the world of screenwriting, there is only one kick.  Typing FADE OUT.  Only then can you truly awaken from your creative trance and admire what you’ve accomplished.  There will be times when your screenplay requires more work.  When that happens, you have the freedom to face each level again and truly perfect your idea.

Your mind is where inspiration strikes.  Combine that with a good idea and a great deal of dedication and you can write something amazing.

You just have to be prepared to go deeper and believe in yourself.

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