Every story is really about the same goal. The goal may not be exactly identical, but the goal is similar. For example, in “Ant Man and the Wasp,” the basic goal is reuniting the family. This occurs in several ways:
- The original Ant Man, Hank Pym, loses his wife, the original Wasp, when she’s lost in the quantum realm. Now his goal is to reunite with her.
- The new Ant Man, Scott Lang, is separated from the new Wasp, Hope Pym, the daughter of Hank Pym who he likes romantically. Now his goal is to reunite with her.
- Scott Lang can’t leave his house to be with his daughter. By the end, he’s finished his house arrest and can be with his daughter.
- Ghost (Ava Starr), a woman whose body is unstable, has lost her parents and eventually finds a father figure with Bill Foster, a scientist who is trying to help her stabilize her body.
Notice that every subplot is about people trying to reunite and find a family in different ways. Focusing every subplot on the same type of goal keeps a story unified. What happens if one subplot involves trying to reunite with a family member and another subplot is about revenge? Now you’re suddenly telling two different stories, which creates a fractured, disjointed effect that can only hurt both subplots.
Start with the main goal that the hero wants to achieve. Then you automatically know the same type of goal for every other subplot. Romantic comedies are all about love, so the best romantic comedies are all about finding love. In “Legally Blonde,” Elle, the hero, wants to find love but so does her ally, a hairdresser, and her other ally, a fellow law student whose a nerdy type of guy.
In “The Wizard of Oz,” every character is trying to find something that they already have but they don’t know it. Only by going through their adventure do they realize they had what they were seeking all along.
One goal keeps your story focused and that’s the first step to writing a great screenplay.