You may have a great idea so you start writing your screenplay, wind up getting around 40 pages done, and suddenly realize you have no idea how to finish it. The problem is that you’ve simply run out of ideas. If you keep writing, you’ll likely create a disjointed collection of scenes that have little relevance to your earlier scenes. Now you’ll need to edit, move, delete, and add scenes all over the place, creating a chaotic mess of a screenplay that just seems to keep getting worse and more complicated.
To solve this problem, you need to think bigger. If your story is about someone robbing banks, you may write an exciting scene where the hero successfully robs a bank, and then you have no idea where to go from there. One approach is to create a mystery surrounding your existing writing. For example, maybe the hero successfully robs the bank with a handful of helpers, and then someone talks to the cops and nobody knows who to trust any more. This approach takes your existing material and lets the audience see it from another perspective.
Another method is to keep adding. For example, if your hero successfully robs a bank, have the hero keep robbing more banks to achieve some kind of goal. Perhaps the hero needs money to pay for his mother’s operation. Maybe the hero keeps robbing banks to lure out a cop who busted him and now the hero wants a chance to confront this cop once more. Whatever the case, just keep repeating your hero’s actions except make them a stepping stone to a larger goal.
So one approach is to take the existing scenes and view them from another perspective. A second approach is to make the existing scene part of a larger goal of some kind. In both cases, you create a bigger mystery about the existing scenes and make them part of a larger goal.
The screenwriters for the horror movie “Scream” wrote the opening scene and didn’t know how to continue. In that opening scene, a girl gets a call from a stranger who asks her increasingly personal questions. When she gets scared, she says she has a boyfriend. Then the caller says to look out the window, and she sees her boyfriend tied up and beaten up. Gradually the caller keeps threatening the girl until the mystery caller finally kills her.
At this point, the screenwriters didn’t know what to do. So they created a mystery on who this serial killer might be and they kept creating more killing scenes. What allowed the screenwriters to continue was by creating a mystery around that existing scene.
If you’re stuck in your story, chances are good you told everything you thought you knew about your story, and ran out of ideas. Now’s the time to think bigger and see your existing scenes as part of a bigger mystery.
If your opening scene is about robbing banks, probe for the mystery. Why is the hero robbing a bank? This creates a mystery that you can gradually solve. What else might be happening? Maybe the bank robbery is actually part of a plan to get money to finance an operation (“Dog Day Afternoon”). Maybe the robbery reveals that one of the robbers is actually an undercover cop (“Reservoir Dogs”). Maybe the robbery is just about two people having fun and not realizing the consequences of their actions (“Bonnie and Clyde”).
Whenever you’re stuck, that’s a clear signal that you’re missing a bigger mystery. Once you identify a bigger mystery, fill your existing scenes with subtle hints that gradually reveal this bigger mystery and you’ll have enough ideas to keep writing to finish your screenplay.
If you wrote half of your screenplay and wound up finishing at page 50, you could try adding more scenes to the end, but this risks creating a disjointed story. For another approach, try looking at your existing screenplay as the middle and end of your story. Then think of writing earlier scenes to tack on to the beginning of your screenplay. You might find that writing earlier scenes is a lot easier than trying to tack on extra scenes at the end.
Whether you decide to create a bigger mystery and write additional scenes on the end, or whether you decide that you’ve written the middle and end of your story and need to write earlier scenes to flesh out a beginning, think how your existing material can be part of a bigger picture. When you start thinking bigger, you’ll start generating ideas for how to complete the rest of your screenplay whether you fill in extra material at the beginning or the end.