Define Your Story as a Trailer to Lay Out the Plot Points

Watch trailers and you’ll immediately notice that they tell you what the story is about, the tone, who the hero is, and what the setting might be in about two minutes. If trailers can do all that in a condensed format, then one way to create your story is to imagine it as a trailer.

First, start with the tone. Is it humor? Horror? Drama? Romance? A mix of two or more genres? It doesn’t matter just as long as you know exactly what type of genre your story falls under. Knowing your story’s tone (genre) immediately tells you that every scene in your story must reflect that tone. The tone lets people know what type of story they’re about to see.

Second, clearly define the problem and the goal. Once we know the tone, we want to know what type of story we’re about to see. If the tone intrigues us, the story details will pull us in. That means we need to know what the hero’s trying to accomplish and what’s in the way.

Third, we need to know the hero and the setting. The hero can be old or young, male or female, but whoever your hero is needs to be appealing, not just visually (since you can’t predict who might play your hero). Instead, you must imagine scenes that show off your hero’s personality through conflict.

Notice that every moment in a trailer shows the hero either running into roadblocks or scheming to get what he or she wants? Watch this trailer for “8-Bit Christmas” and you’ll notice the following:

In “8-Bit Christmas,” you can clearly see the tone is humorous, but notice that every scene uses humor in some way that either defines the setting or shows the hero trying to achieve his goal.

Once you realize that the trailer for “8-Bit Christmas” uses humor in every scene, that tells you that the full-length screenplay must use humor in every scene (which it does).

Now notice that “8-Bit Christmas” clearly defines the problem and the goal. The hero wants a Nintendo game console but his parents are against it. That means the hero and his friends must work together to find a way to get a Nintendo game console and that’s what the entire story is about.

Third, notice who the hero is and the setting. The hero is a kid who seems to live a normal life, not rich but not poor. He’s living in the ordinary world of most Americans, which makes him relatable to most audiences. In the trailer alone, notice that every scene shows the hero either reacting to obstacles or scheming to overcome them. That’s because conflict helps reveal who the character is and his constant quest for a goal makes us want to know if he will achieve his dream.

Study any movie trailer and you’ll quickly be able to identify:

  • The tone (genre)
  • The problem and goal
  • The hero and setting

Now by imagining your story as a trailer, define these elements and apply them throughout your entire full-length screenplay. This will likely create a stronger foundation for your movie idea than just rushing off and typing a bunch of scenes without planning.

Think of your story idea as a trailer and then write a full-length screenplay that delivers on that trailer’s promise. That will help you tell a great story.

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