When many novices get an idea for a story, they immediately rush to write the screenplay. This inevitably winds up creating a story that runs out of ideas after several pages. If the screenwriter has enough ideas, he or she might write up to 40 pages before finding themselves in a dead end.
The problem with writing a screenplay too soon is much like having an idea to go on vacation, and then jumping in your car and driving as fast as you can in one direction without first defining where you want to go.
Writing your screenplay should actually be the last task. The first task should be fleshing out your story because it’s far easier to change and modify a story when it consists of a few sentences rather than after you’ve already written 120 pages of a screenplay.
So rather than start writing right away, start by dividing your story in half. With these two halves, you can outline the basics of your story.
First, decide what your story is about. If you’re writing a horror story, then your story is about a monster of some sort so the first half of your story must introduce that monster and its powers and the second half of yours tory must answer the question of whether the hero defeats the monster or not.
If you’re writing a romance, then the first half is about your hero finding true love and the second half is about your hero losing but ultimately getting true love after all.
If you’re writing a comedy or drama, the first half is about your hero wanting a better life and the second half is about whether the hero gets that better life or not. In comedies, the hero always gets a better life but in dramas, the hero may or may not get a better life.
In an action story, the first half is about the villain pursuing a mysterious goal and the second half is about the villain revealing what that goal might be and whether the hero stops the villain or not.
In a mystery, the first half is about the villain creating a mystery in the hero’s life and the second half is about how the hero solves and ultimately defeats this mystery.
By dividing your story in half, you can pose a question and then answer it. To flesh out your story, you can ask multiple questions. For example in “Rocky,” the questions you can ask might include:
- Rocky wants to prove to himself that he’s not a bum, by the end he nearly wins a fight against Apollo Creed and proves to the world he’s not a bum.
- Rocky is lonely, by the end he gets a girlfriend
- Rocky is a down and out boxer, by the end he shows that he’s actually a champion at heart
You can use this two-part story method to flesh out the basic questions posed and ultimately answered in any story. In “Alien” the questions you can ask might include:
- A crew wakes up from hibernation for a mysterious reason, by the end they learn why they were woken up.
- An alien invades a starship, by the end, the lone crew member ejects the alien from her escape module.
A story always has a beginning and an end where the beginning poses compelling questions and the end ultimately answers them. The more questions your story poses in the beginning, the stronger your story will be if the end ultimately answers them.
Mediocre stories either lack enough compelling questions in the beginning or fail to answer compelling questions by the end. In “The Maze Runner,” the initial question is why is the hero trapped in a maze. By the end of the movie, that question is never answered.
In “The 5th Wave,” the aliens take over Earth. By the end of the movie, nothing has changed.
Watch any great movie and you’ll notice that the beginning introduces questions and answers them in the end such as “Legally Blonde” that asks an initial question if the hero will ever find love and by the end, she does. Great movies introduce compelling, clear questions and answer them in the end. By simply focusing on introducing questions and answering them by the end, you can make sure your story has a chance to be a great one.