Every movie is about a big story and the main story. The big story is what you expect. In “Die Hard,” the big story is whether the hero will survive while battling an army of terrorists. Yet the main story is whether the hero will get back with his wife.
In “Rocky,” the big story is Rocky fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world, but the main story is whether he’ll prove to the world that he’s not a loser after all.
In “Don’t Breathe,” the big story is whether the hero can escape from a house where she’s trapped by a blind psychopath, but the main story is whether she’ll save her sister from their horrible family life.
In “Jaws,” the big story is about fighting a man-eating shark, but the main story is about a sheriff trying to redeem himself after the shark has killed several people.
In the original “Ghostbusters,” the big story is about fighting ghosts, but the main story is about the hero trying to win the love of a woman.
The simplest way to start any story is to look at the big story and the main story. The big story is what your story’s genre is about. If you’re writing an action thriller, then the big story will be something major like whether the villain will blow up the world. If you’re writing a horror story, then the big story will be about your hero battling a villain in a house or other isolated environment. If you’re writing a comedy, then the big story will be comedy story but the main story will be what your hero hopes to gain.
Big stories are easy to make up. Every superhero movie is about fighting a super villain, but “Iron Man” is also about the hero learning to care for others and not profit from war and violence.
Main stories are harder to make up. Bad movies only focus on the big story and create endless amounts of gunfire, explosions, and car crashes. Ultimately, all of these special effects mean nothing if there isn’t a main story to hold it all together.
“Avatar” wasn’t just about a man living and fighting with aliens, but about learning to become a whole person again. In comparison, a bad movie like “Jaws 3D” is just about a shark and nothing else. Bad movies are bad often because they don’t have a main story that the big story helps the hero become a better person.
Don’t just focus on your big story that satisfies your story genre whether it’s horror, action, romance, or comedy. Make your big story mean something, and that’s the purpose of the main story.