The most common problem when writing a screenplay is running out of ideas. It’s easy to whip up 30-60 pages of a screenplay in a heat of emotion and inspiration. Then suddenly you run into a dead end and have no idea what to do next. In most cases, you’ll either create a disjointed story or abandon the whole project.
Here’s a better solution. The first half of your screenplay should appear to be about one story, but then the second half of your screenplay reveals what the story is really about.
This is a common technique used by nearly every screenplay. In “Star Wars,” we know Darth Vader wants something but we don’t quite know what. Then in the second half of the movie, we finally learn that he wants to find the rebel base and destroy it.
In “Back to the Future,” the first half of the movie seems to be about the hero trying to get back to his own time. Then in the second half of the movie, we learn that he must first get his parents together so he can be born in the future.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the first half of the story is about the hero trapped in a castle with a Beast. Then in the second half of the story, we learn that the real story is that the magic spell may condemn the beast to his monstrous form forever.
In “Die Hard,” the first half of the tory appears to be about a terrorist takeover of a skyscraper. Then in the second half of the screenplay, we learn the real story, which is that these aren’t terrorists at all but criminals trying to break into a corporate vault and blow up all the hostages to make their escape.
The real problem is always more interesting, so the simplest technique is to hide the real story initially. Then reveal the real story.
In “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” the story initially appears to be about two teenagers who are trapped in a time loop and forced to relive the same day over and over again. The the second half of the story reveals what’s really going on, which is that one of the characters can’t let someone go (die) and that’s the reason why they’re both stuck in a time loop.
By simply hiding your true story until the second half of the screenplay, you can entice the audience with hints in the beginning. Then you’ll never run out of ideas by simply hiding your true story in the beginning.