When writing a screenplay, outline the basic structure of your story. Typically a story fools the audience into thinking the story is about one thing but it turns out to be something far more sinister.
In “Die Hard,” the story initially appears to be a terrorist takeover of a skyscraper. Only later do we learn that the terrorists are really stealing corporate bonds from a vault and plant to blow up all the hostages on the roof to distract the police and allow them to get away.
In “Alien,” the story initially appears to be about a spaceship discovering the first sign of alien life on another planet. When an alien creature latches on to the face of a crew member, the story suddenly takes a macabre turn for the worse as the story now turns into fight for survival against the alien.
In “Legally Blonde,” the story initially appears to be about a young woman trying to win her ex-boyfriend back by attending law school with him. Then the story really turns out to be about this young woman learning to stand up for herself on her own and prove she can excel in law school on her own.
Every story begins one way and takes a twist to reveal its true nature in the second half of the story. So the way to structure any story is to first understand what your real story is about, and then create a distorted, phony view of that story.
This distorted, phony view of the story is what you use to fool audiences into thinking your story is going in one direction. Then you reveal your real story and shock audiences into realizing your story is actually heading in a different direction.
If you fail to twist your story like this, then your story has no room to grow. It starts one way and simply moves in a straightforward fashion with no surprises. With no surprises, the story becomes dull.
However, with a surprise, any story suddenly becomes far more interesting. This creates interest by revealing what the first half of the story really meant.
For example, the clues in the first half of “Die Hard” shows a well-organized band of ruthless terrorists taking over the skyscraper. Even though they appear only to be terrorists, their organization hints at something more sinister, which is revealed only in the second half of the movie.
Knowing your true story lets you fill the first half of your screenplay with hints and tantalizing clues. Without knowing your true story, your screenplay has no depth or hidden agendas, making the story plain and predictable.
So define your story and then distort and hide the real story. This tactic alone will help you tell more compelling stories.