Too many writers start writing a story and then get stuck. Even if they know where how the story ends, they don’t have enough material to flesh out a full-length screenplay. The answer lies in creating a haunted past for your hero.
The real purpose of every story is for a hero to resolve a problem that happened in the past. Sometimes that past occurs way before the movie ever starts, but sometimes that traumatic past happens right in the beginning of the story.
In “A Quiet Place,” a family quietly sneaks through an abandoned town to pick up supplies. That’s when the daughter gives her little brother a toy that makes noise. Unfortunately, this little boy turns on the toy and the noise attracts a monster that dashes out of nowhere and kills the little boy.
From that moment on, the story is about the family resolving the pain of losing this little boy but showing they still love each other, especially the daughter who feels guilty for accidentally getting her brother killed.
Most times, the haunted past occurs way before the story even begins. In “Die Hard,” John McClane’s wife left him in New York so she could pursue a career in Los Angeles. Now as the story progresses, we keep learning more and more about what happened until John McClane finally admits to Officer Powell that his own arrogance helped break up his marriage.
Although “Die Hard” looks like it’s nothing more than one man fighting an army of terrorists in a skyscraper, it’s really about one man trying to reunite with his wife and finally realizing his arrogance is what broke them apart.
Not surprisingly, the leader of the terrorists is also arrogant, so John McClane is basically battling himself.
When making up a story, always look for a haunted past for your hero to resolve because resolving this haunted past is the foundation of every tory. Eliminate this haunted past and you wind up creating a superficial story that lacks emotional depth like “The Marvels”.
Watch your favorite movies and notice that the hero always has a problem they need to solve from their past. The haunted past is always the key to writing a great emotional story.