Before you start writing your screenplay, make sure you know the type of story you want to tell. You can tell a straight action, horror, or comedy story, or you can combine them and create a comedy/horror movie like “Ghostbusters” or an action comedy movie like “Beverly Hills Cop,” or a science fiction horror story like “Alien.” Whatever type of story you want to tell, make sure you give that to your audience at every 15 minutes.
In a comic book movie like “The Wolverine,” the promise is a lot of comic book action, so the first segment opens with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. That immediately grabs our attention. Then each additional segment has some sort of comic book style fighting scene. The second segment shows the Wolverine fighting in a bar. The third segment shows Wolverine fighting a gang at a funeral. Then the next fight scene takes place on a bullet train. Notice that audiences expect to see comic book action so that’s what “The Wolverine” gives every 15 minutes.
In “Star Wars,” audiences expect to see some type of science fiction battle, so the movie opens with Darth Vader’s starship boarding Princess Leia’s ship. Then Luke gets attacked by the Sand People while following R2D2. Next, Obi-wan protects Luke in a seedy bar and Hans shoots a bounty hunter trying to kill him. When they escape the planet, they’re attacked by TIE fighters before escaping. Then they have to battle their way through the Death Star to save Princess Leia. Obi-wan fights Darth Vader and the final scene Luke has to battle Darth Vader to blow up the Death Star. “Star Wars” promises lots of science fiction action and it delivers it consistently.
One of my favorite horrible movies to hate is “Ghost Story,” which was based on the horror novel of the same name. When you see a horror movie, you expect to get scared from beginning to end. All I remember in “Ghost Story” was that it had a long flashback scene where nothing scary seemed to happen. Then the ending was anti-climactic and not scary even though it was supposed to be. Because “Ghost Story” promised horror but didn’t deliver it consistently, it was an awful movie (among other reasons).
“The Net” is another bad movie that promises a story about computer hacking, but the story wound up being more of a suspense thriller (and a bad one at that) where the climax has nothing to do with computer hacking. Even bad movies like “Terminator 3” promise action and deliver, even if the action makes no sense. But at least it delivers what it promised.
Every story is a promise to your audience. Audiences want to experience a certain story and you better deliver that consistently and regularly. If you don’t, then your story may be good, but it will fail to satisfy your promise, and that means your story risks failing as well.