The quickest way to write a bad screenplay is to have multiple character who either exist solely to help the hero or to have multiple characters pursuing wildly different goals. If other characters exist solely to help the hero, they’ll feel flat and one-dimensional. If other characters pursue wildly different goals, the entire story will lose focus.
The key is to have multiple characters pursue the same goal. This goal doesn’t have to be identical, but does have to be similar.
[ SPOILER ALERT for “Toy Story 4”]
In “Toy Story 4,” the hero is Woody, a toy cowboy who wants to feel wanted. That goal is echoed throughout the other multiple characters in different ways.
The villain, a girl doll named Gabby, was made with a defective voice box so she wants Woody’s voice box, thinking that if her voice box were only functional, she would find a child to love her.
Woody’s girlfriend, a toy named Bo Peep, is given away because the little girl who owned her no longer wants her. So now Bo Peep is looking for love as well.
A pair of carnival toys, joined by the hand, also want to find a child to own them so they can feel loved.
A daredevil toy from Canada was tossed aside by his original owner when he failed to jump as high and fast as the TV commercials depicted him, so now this daredevil toy wants to prove to himself that he can jump high and fast to honor the memory of his first owner.
A girl makes a toy out of a plastic fork and this toy needs to learn how to find love.
So every character (toy) is looking to find love from someone else. Woody wants to find love with Bo Peep, who also wants to find love with Woody. The other toys want to find love with children but they’re all pursuing similar goals.
Now imagine if everyone pursued different goals. What if Woody wanted to find love, but another character wanted revenge, another character wanted to travel to another country, and still another character wanted to win a sports championship? Suddenly with so many different stories, there’s no focus.
The key to developing a story is to define the main goal and have multiple characters pursue that same goal in different ways. This reinforces the story from multiple points of view and strengthens your overall story like strands of rope intertwined to create a thicker and stronger rope.
Stay focused. That’s the key to good storytelling.