When most people get an idea for a story, they often rush into writing it, which typically creates a sloppy, poorly structured story that requires massive rewriting to fix. Other times people may take their time to create an outline, but that’s often too slow. Even worse, your outline will likely be incomplete, which can be discouraging. Here’s a better solution.
As soon as you get an idea for a story, immediately jot down the major scenes that would make your story memorable, even if you don’t know the exact details of that scene. For example, imagine if you were writing “Star Wars.” You know the Death Star is going to play a huge role in your story so you’d need at least two scenes to highlight this. First, you need an early scene that demonstrates the Death Star’s power by blowing up a planet. Second, you need the final scene where the Death Star is about to blow up another planet but the hero blows up the Death Star instead.
By focusing on the scenes that excite you, without regard to the details, you can better capture the spirit of your story and what motivated you to get excited about that idea in the first place. Capture the main scenes that immediately pop into your head and worry about making sense of these scenes later.
Every story contains a handful of major scenes, but every major scene needs to focus on the main promise of your story. In “Star Wars,” this main promise is to see battles in space. In every action film such as “Die Hard,” this main promise is to see the hero battling enemies with guns, hand to hand combat, and explosions.
Start with your big finale. Remember, your story needs to be like a fireworks show that slowly builds to a grand and awe-inspiring conclusion. If a story fails to end with a scene bigger than any previous scene, then it will likely be a letdown.
In “Hanna” the story is about a girl trained to be an assassin since birth. The first half of the movie is exciting because she’s hunted down by commandos and eventually captured, but she escaped. Then the second half of the movie is far less exciting because she’s rarely fighting anyone with far fewer gunfire, explosions, and hand to hand combat. “Hanna” is like a fireworks show that blows up its big finale right at the beginning and then trickles out to a disappointing conclusion at the end.
Of course, the final scene doesn’t have to be bigger physically but bigger emotionally. In “Terminator 2,” the final scene is the battle between the villain and the hero, but it’s far less visually exciting than earlier battles where the hero and villain are shooting at each other from helicopters and cars are crashing and blowing up all around them. Instead, the climax in “Terminator 2” is far more emotionally engaging because it’s the life or death struggle between the hero and villain where we know only one will survive.
So when you come up with an idea for a story, start with the major scenes which includes the end. How does your story end with a big finale? Then come up with any other ideas for scenes that excite you. Once you’ve captured your major ending scene and any other scenes that excite you, then you can worry about connecting these scenes together into a coherent story.
When plotting your story, don’t jump into writing too soon and don’t get bogged down in a detailed outline that forces you to think through every detail long before you actually know them.
Instead, just jot down the major scenes you think your story needs and worry about connecting them together later. Some scenes you’ll likely dump but that’s okay. It’s far easier to dump a brief description of a scene than an entire scene once it’s written in screenplay format.
The main idea is to capture all the scenes that excite you about your story. If you’re excited about certain scenes, chances are good your enthusiasm will flow into writing great scenes in a screenplay as well.