The best stories move us emotionally, so if you want to create the best story possible, start by tapping into a strong emotion of your own. Once you know what strong emotion you want to communicate to the world, the actual plot and story you tell will be far better due to your emotional involvement. If you’re emotional about your story when writing it, chances are good that your emotions will capture an audience and make them emotional about it as well. If you’re simply trying to write a screenplay to sell with little emotional stake behind your story at all, chances are good no audience will find it compelling either.
So start by getting emotional. You might think that people should judge each other based on their true character and not their superficial looks, which is basically the story behind “Shallow Hal,” which is about a man who can see the inner beauty of people regardless of their outside appearance. If you think killing is wrong, then you might get the theme of “Terminator 2” about how killing ultimately leads to more killing.
Your emotions are critical because if you’re not absolutely excited about your story, then you can’t expect anyone else to care either. Listen to storytellers and they’ll change their voice to capture and tease an audience. As a screenwriter, you have to mimic that process by getting intensely emotional when writing certain parts of your own story.
If you want to shatter stereotypes, you could come up with a silly story like “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.” Although this story seems like a gross-out comedy, it’s also about looking at stereotypes and seeing that they aren’t always real. Strip away this idea of shattering stereotypes and “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” risks becoming a meaningless series of nonsensical incidents with no linking theme holding it all together.
The best movies have a strong emotional core that runs throughout the entire story. When writing any story, you’re actually telling two stories. First is the superficial story that involves plot, scenes, and characters. Second is the real story that focuses solely on a single emotion that colors and shapes your superficial story.
Bad movies are awful because they simply toss in a jumbled mix of scenes that have no link to each other. Great movies are great because every scene supports the same emotional theme. Look at the difference between great movies and any awful sequels they may spawn. “Die Hard” wasn’t about a man fighting terrorists but about a man trying to get back with his wife, and fighting terrorists was what he needed to do to get back with his wife. “Star Wars” wasn’t about special effects and space battles but about one man longing to live an adventure and make a difference.
Look at the best movies and they’re never just a superficial story. Instead, they have a deeper, emotional core that everyone can relate to. “The Karate Kid” is about a bullied kid who finally stands up to his attackers. The details don’t matter so much as the emotional core intrigues us because we have all felt like an underdog at some time or another.
Before writing, always look for that deep emotional core that’s driving you to write a particular story in the first place. Once you can identify that emotional core, you’ll know how the rest of your story should turn out.