This blog post title (Keep Trying to Succeed) can apply both to your own dreams of writing and selling a screenplay as well as the main goal of the hero of your screenplay. Your hero must have a goal right from the start and must keep trying to achieve that dream with constant setbacks. Only until the end should the hero finally achieve his or her goal.
So the basic structure of every screenplay is to define the hero’s goal clearly in a way that makes us immediately see the hero’s struggle right from the beginning. Then the end must show the hero achieving that goal (or not). If the hero achieve that goal, it should be far more than what he or she dreamed of. If the hero failed to achieve that goal, then the he or she should either get something far better anyway, or go down in dismal and dramatic defeat. However, each time the hero achieves a step towards the goal, something needs to block that path.
In “The Martian,” the goal is clear right from the start. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and has to get back home. Here are his basic steps to achieving his goal:
- Grow food to stay alive until the next Mars mission can arrive. Then the greenhouse rips and all the potato plants die in the cold Mars atmosphere.
- Get food sent through a special launch. The rocket blows up.
- Get to a spare launch vehicle and fly into space to intercept a ship in orbit. The launch vehicle can’t launch him high enough.
- Puncture his suit and use the leaking air to propel him to the orbiting ship. He finally succeeds!
In “Zootopia,” the goal right from the start is for a bunny to come the first police officer in the city known as Zootopia. The basic steps to achieving this goal include:
- Get accepted into the police academy. Due to her small size, she gets pushed around easily.
- She finally makes it to the police academy. She’s assigned to work as a meter maid.
- She finally gets a chance to catch a criminal. She’s chastised for leaving her meter maid duties.
- She finally gets a chance to work on a real case. She’s given 48 hours to solve it or else she’ll be forced to resign.
- She finally solves the case. She accidentally causes prey to start distrusting the predators, tearing the city apart.
- She learns that a plant is causing problems. She learns that the mayor is behind a cover up.
- She spots the crooks behind the scheme. The real villain (the new mayor) appears to stop her from leaking this information to the public.
- She records the mayor’s confession and finally succeeds in becoming a real police officer with a new partner.
The basic structure of your screenplay must look like this:
- Your hero has a clear, compelling goal right from the start that gains our sympathy.
- The hero keeps getting one step closer to the goal, only to hit a roadblock right away. (Repeat this step multiple times.)
- Your hero achieves (or fails to achieve) the goal in the end.
Your hero must keep getting closer to a goal, step by step until the final end. Then that end must be emotionally satisfying with multiple subplots wrapped up that support the main storyline.
Make the hero’s goal clear, compelling, and more importantly, seemingly impossible. Then take s for a ride on how the hero can possibly succeed and that will be the foundation for a great movie.