To determine if your idea for a story can make a satisfactory screenplay, start with the beginning and compare it to the end. By knowing what to look for, you can spare yourself waste time writing a screenplay that’s doomed from the start.
Here’s a quick way to determine if your screenplay is going to work. Ask yourself what happens in the first 15 minutes of your screenplay. Then ask yourself how the last 15 minutes of your screenplay end. If the two have nothing in common with each other, then you’ll know you’re probably way off track.
With well-crafted stories, the beginnings are always related to the ending. The beginning of every story must tell us exactly who the hero is and what the hero wants. The ending of every story must tell us who the hero defeats and whether the hero gets what he (or she) wants.
Think of “Up.” In the first 15 minutes, we learn that the hero is the old man who has lost his wife and yearns for an adventure he never got to take with his wife. At the last 15 minutes of the screenplay, we learn that the hero is fighting his old idol, a flamboyant adventurer, and we find that the old man really does get a chance to live out his adventure that he always longed for. Eliminate Act II and just focus on the first half of Act I and the last half of Act III and you can tell whether you have a well-rounded story.
Think of “Die Hard.” In the first 15 minutes, Bruce Willis’s goal is to get back with his wife. In the last 15 minutes, Bruce Willis’s goal is to rescue his wife from the villain. He succeeds and ultimately gets back with his wife.
Think of “Star Wars.” In the first 15 minutes, Luke longs to get off the desert planet and search for adventure. In the last 15 minutes, Luke is fighting the biggest adventure possible, attacking the Death Star. Luke not only has gotten off his planet, but he’s also been involved in the biggest adventure possible.
The beginning must always set up the ending. If the beginning is vague, then the ending won’t satisfy. If the ending is vague, the movie ends without satisfying the basic question it posed in the beginning.
So when crafting your own screenplay, ask yourself if your screenplay asks a question on what your hero wants, and then ask if the ending of your screenplay answers that question.
In the “Karate Kid,” the hero wants to belong. At the ending, the hero not only has a girlfriend and the respect of his teacher, but also the respect of his opponents.
In “Independence Day,” the President wants to prove himself as a leader. By the end of the movie, the President is dogfighting with flying saucers and succeeds in helping down the alien spaceship.
In “Grease,” Danny and Sandy want to be together. By the end of the movie, they are back together.
Endings are really beginnings in disguise. Just focus on your beginning and ending and once you get that straight, then you can worry about making the rest of your movie fit in between.