I recently got a chance to read a screenplay that sold for seven figures. The idea was great, but the screenplay itself was horrible, which means it will need to be rewritten extensively to make it a good story. What’s missing from this seven-figure screenplay? Unfulfilled expectations.
There’s a rule in story telling that when you introduce something, the worse case scenario almost always happens. For example, in this seven-figure screenplay I read, a couple risks losing their job if certain information about their past gets exposed. So what happens? This certain information never gets exposed.
That’s setting the audience up and then not delivering. Whenever you set up your audience, let them see the worse case scenario appear.
If your story consists of a woman who has a perfect life, but has to keep her affair hidden from her rich husband, you have to show what happens when her husband discovers her affair. If you aren’t willing to make it worse for the woman, then don’t even bother teasing the audience with the threat of her affair being discovered in the first place.
If you’re going to reveal something, it has to be important. If it’s not important, it doesn’t belong.
Many novice screenplays make this mistake as if the writers don’t want their characters to suffer. In “Ghostbusters,” the worse case scenario is that all the ghosts they caught could be released and that’s exactly what happens. In “Star Wars,” the worse case scenario is that Darth Vader will eventually find the location of the rebel base and that’s exactly what happens. In “Thelma and Louise,” the worse case scenario is that the police will eventually catch up to the two women and that’s exactly what happens.
The worse case scenario is what the audience wants to see because it’s exciting and it really drags the hero down and makes everything look hopeless. By failing to show this worse case scenario in your story, you cheat and disappoint the audience.
In your own screenplay, make things as worse as possible for your hero because that makes for a more exciting story. By hinting of a worse case scenario but never delivering on your promise, you make your story weak, dull, and disappointing, and that’s not the formula for success.
In the case of the seven-figure screenplay, the idea was great, the actual writing was bad, but Hollywood paid for the idea. However, imagine how much further this writer would have gotten if she had only come up with a great idea and followed it up with a great screenplay that told a compelling story? As it stands now, some other writer will have to rewrite this seven-figure screenplay so rather than get all the credit, the original screenwriter will only get part of the credit.
Even worse, if her writing doesn’t improve, and she doesn’t come up with another million dollar idea, her screenwriting career may never go as far as it could simply because she’ll continue cranking out screenplays that other people will have to rewrite extensively.