Rather than tell a story, try to create a world. A world provides a playground for telling a story while a story simply provides one interesting idea and that’s it. If you create a world, you lay the groundwork for a bunch of stories.
When “Die Hard” came out, everyone rushed to create “Die Hard” clones to the point where writers were pitching stories as Die Hard but on a ship (“Under Siege”) or as Die Hard but in a hockey arena (“Sudden Death”). “Die Hard” defined a type of story, which is an underdog trapped in one location against terrorists.
“Rocky” did the same for sports stories. The basic world of “Rocky” is an underdog in a sports championship. Although there were other sports movies before “Rocky,” “Rocky” perfectly defines the world of an underdog in a sports championship.
Notice how both “Die Hard” and “Rocky” easily spawned sequels that simply repeat the same formula? Whether those sequels are any good or not is another story, but the original movies created a story world that others could easily apply.
When “Alien” came out, it was basically a science fiction horror movie. In a typical horror movie, people are trapped in one place while the bad guy tries to kill them. “Alien” simply adopted this world to science fiction and created a unique story as a result.
“Alien” also spawned numerous sequels because it laid the foundation for a world of stories, not just a single story. Now look at “The Blind Side.”
In “The Blind Side,” a rich family adopts a poor black kid who eventually becomes a football star. Despite being a great story, it doesn’t create a story world that can be easily adapted. The story of helping a poor kid grow up and become a star is simply too limiting. Anyone see an easy way to make a sequel to “The Blind Side”? Nope, because its scope is too narrow.
When creating your own screenplay, look for ways to create a world rather than just a single story like “The Blind Side.” A story world gives you far greater scope for creativity. If you focus just on creating a story, you may fail, but if you focus first on creating a story world, you can easily modify your story to fit within your world.
“Star Wars” is about an evil dictator trying to control the galaxy, which made it easy to create sequels because the story world was so rich to begin with. Define a story world and you know that any story you create must fit within that world. If you don’t define your story world, you have no idea what will work and what won’t, and you risk wasting time chasing dead ends as a result.
“Night of the Living Dead” defined the story world of zombies. “Star Trek” defined the story world of futuristic space exploration. When you create a story, ask yourself if it could be a TV series or just a single movie. If your story idea can’t be a TV series, you may need to expand your ideas to imagine the story world first before spending time creating your actual story. Clarify your story world first and chances are good you’ll create a better story within that world.