What novice screenwriters typically do is start with the bare bones of an idea and then immediately start writing. This inevitably leads to a screenplay that runs out of ideas after less than 30 pages. At that point, the screenwriter is stuck and the story likely goes nowhere.
The solution to this problem is to create a story and include a twist in the middle. Audiences think the story is about one topic but then it subtly switches to another.
In “Die Hard,” the story first seems to be about terrorists taking over a skyscraper. Only until later does the hero suddenly realize that the terrorists plan to kill all the hostages to distract the police so they can escape. What began as a simple terrorist takeover has now become a far more deadly story.
In “Captain Marvel,” the story first seems to be about shape-shifting aliens who are fighting Captain Marvel. Only later do we learn that the shape-shifting aliens are the victims and the people helping Captain Marvel are actually the villains.
In “Back to the Future,” the story first seems to be about getting back to his own time. Then the story twists when the hero accidentally keeps his parents from meeting. Now he must get his parents together or else he’ll never be born.
Pick any great movie and you’ll see that the story twists halfway through. The twist in the story simply reveals the horrifying consequences of the original story that we never knew in the beginning.
In “Avatar,” the story seems to be about trying to communicate with aliens. Then the story twists into a deadlier story where the humans are trying to wipe out the aliens to get the minerals under their sacred HomeTree.
In “Legally Blonde,” the story seems to be about the hero trying to go to law school and win her boyfriend back. Then the story twists and the hero’s thrust into a law case where she has to save an innocent woman.
The twist in the story increases the stakes for the hero and threatens the hero somehow. If the hero does nothing, the hero’s life will become much worse. Sometimes this can be a physical threat such as the threat of the hero and his wife dying in “Die Hard.”
Sometimes this can be simply a threat to the hero’s emotional world as in “Legally Blonde” where if the hero fails to protect an innocent woman, she’ll have failed her law school, failed to protect an innocent sorority sister, and ultimately feel like a failure herself.
When coming up with your own story, make sure there’s a twist in the middle. This twist must threaten the hero to force the hero to stop the horrifying consequences if he or she fails to act.
The twist in the story is what makes a two hour screenplay easier to write because instead of trying to stretch a single idea into two hours, you just have to take your original idea for one hour, then provide a twist that wraps up the story in the second hour.
Twist your story. You’ll find it makes writing easier.