Watch a great movie like “Casablanca” or “The Shawshank Redemption” and it’s easy to be awed by story and not be able to dissect how it works. That’s why it’s often easier to dissect and understand story structure by eatching much simpler movies like any Godzilla movie from Japan.
If you visit Crackle, you can see a lot of free movies on your computer. Some popular movies on Crackle include the latest Godzilla movies. Although they’re often comical in an unintended way, Godzilla movies can show you the basic story structure.
Almost every Godzilla movie starts off with some kind of mystery that involves a monster of some sort. This grabs our attention and sets the story into motion. Now Godzilla can’t show up right away and start bashing buildings down because then the movie would be over too soon. We already know the climactic battle scene is going to involve Godzilla fighting another monster so this has to occur near the end of the movie.
Sometimes Godzilla is the bad guy and sometimes the good guy. In any case, the story of Godzilla isn’t the whole story. There’s always a story involving people. Godzilla never changes but creates the environment for the human story so the people in the movie can achieve some kind of goal.
So there’s the story of Godzilla slowly getting drawn into a climactic battle with another monster and the human story covering people whose lives get influenced by Godzilla stomping around. These two stories slowly entwine until they smash together at the final climactic end.
Many novice screenwriters make the mistake of simply focusing on a single story, which is the journey of their hero. By ignoring the story of their villain (such as Godzilla or the monster that Godzilla is going to fight), stories that focus solely on the hero’s story feel one-dimensional and flat. Stories that consist of two or more stories feel more rounded and fleshed out.
In a Godzilla movie, there’s the story of Godzilla getting drawn into fighting a monster. Then there’s the story of the humans trying to deal with their own problems that involve Godzilla somehow. In one Godzilla movie I saw, the hero was a woman reporter doing stories about monsters so she’s running around following Godzilla. This gives her a reason to be hanging around Godzilla.
When creating your own story, you have your villain’s story and your hero’s story. Now you need a way to make your hero linked to your villain. In Godzilla movies, the human story is never about something unrelated to Godzilla because then there’s no point in having Godzilla in the story.
Suppose you had a story about a guy who wants to leave his boring planet and have an adventure, such as Luke in “Star Wars.” Now imagine Darth Vader is running around the galaxy foreclosing on people’s homes on another planet on the other side of the galaxy. There’s no way your hero and villain can meet, so the two stories are unrelated and pointless.
Your hero’s story always has to link somehow to your villain so the two of them are bound. In a Godzilla movie, Godzilla could care less about the people running around screaming. However, the people story has to involve following Godzilla around either to fight him, save him, or just film him. The hero’s story must link to the villain’s story to create a credible overall story.
If your hero is busy pursuing one story and your villain is busy somewhere else pursuing another story, you either need to link them together or find a new hero or villain.
A story is never about just one person. A story is actually two or more stories (subplots) intertwined together like strands of rope wound around each other.
So don’t make the mistake of just focusing on one story in your screenplay. Focus on your hero’s story and your villain’s story and the relationship between the two of them. That will make your screenplay stronger and more real.