Screenplays are highly structured because they have a limited amount of time to tell a story. While novels can go off on tangents, screenplays (and stage plays) must stay focused on telling a single story. When writing a screenplay, follow the general rule that every 15 minutes (in a two hour movie), the hero pursues a single goal.
In “Instant Family,” a couple adopts three foster children and eventually bonds as a family. That’s the main story, but the process of getting from being a couple wanting children to having adopted three children takes time. Every 15 minutes, the hero pursues a single goal.
0-15 minutes: The heroes (the childless couple) look into adopting a foster child.
15-30 minutes: The heroes commit to adopting three foster children.
30-45 minutes: The heroes bring the three children home and try to win them over, but fail.
45-60 minutes: The heroes try to win the children over by taking them to an amusement park and letting the teenager smash things, and the heroes feel like they’re finally bonding with their children.
60-75 minutes: The heroes fear they could lose their children to the children’s biological mother, so they seek help from another couple how to handle their children.
75-90 minutes: The heroes try to protect their daughter from sending naked selfies to a school janitor and succeed, but their success helps cause them to lose control of the children in family court.
90-105 minutes: The heroes are going to say good-bye to their children until the mother fails to show up and they convince their daughter that they truly love her.
105-120 minutes: The heroes go to family court to officially adopt their children.
Break down every great two-hour movie into 15-minute segments and you’ll see that the hero always pursues a single goal in each 15-minute segment. First define your hero’s overall goal such as in “Instant Family” where the heroes go from being a couple to having a family of three kids.
Once you know your hero’s starting point and ending point, then you can focus on getting the hero from start to finish by pursuing a single, mini-goal every 15 minutes.