Here’s how most writers get stuck. They come up with a good idea for a story and then they start writing it. About halfway through, they run out of ideas and have no idea what to do next. At this point, they either abandon their script or keep adding more to their story that doesn’t fit, creating a complete mess.
The key is to understand what your story is really about.
Every story makes a promise of some kind so the second half of your story (most likely the part you’re most excited about) is where your story must deliver on its promise.
In “Alien,” the promise is a starship crew battling a monster in space. That’s exactly what happens in the second half of the movie.
In “Titanic,” the promise is watching the Titanic sink, and that’s what the hero must overcome in the second half of the movie.
In “Soul,” the promise is that a man will get a chance to achieve his dream of playing as a professional jazz musician. In the second half of the movie, he finally gets that chance.
So whatever gets you most excited about your story is likely the second half of your story. The big mistake is trying to get to the exciting part too soon.
The way to fix this problem is to put your big story promise in the second half of the story and then make the first half of the story the setup to the second half.
Since the second half of your story should mostly be about action, the first half of your story should be about making us care about who these characters are. That way when we see them in action, we understand what’s happening.
Here’s a simple rule to follow when writing a story:
- The first half of the story is a mystery.
- The second half of the story is where we finally understand the conflict.
In “Citizen Ruth,” we’re introduced to a woman who’s pregnant but wants an abortion. That’s when a religious family takes her in to convince her to have her baby.
Yet that’s not the real story. In the second half of the story, we learn what the real story is, which is when a pro-choice group takes in the hero and tries to convince her to get an abortion. So the real story is the battle between pro-choice and anti-abortion activists trying to use the hero for their own agenda.
In “Die Hard,” the first half of the story seems to be about a terrorist takeover of a skyscraper. Not until we get to the second half of the story do we finally learn that the real story is that it’s a violent corporate robbery instead.
In “Avatar,” the first half of the story seems to be about a paraplegic Marine using his brother’s avatar to learn about the natives on another planet. The second half of the story is the real story, where the humans are trying to wipe out the natives to mine precious resources.
In “The Hunger Games,” the second half of the story is the actual battle in the Hunger Games arena. The first half of the story simply sets up this final battle.
Watch any favorite movie and notice how the first half of the story often remains a mystery. It’s not until the second half of the story that it’s completely clear what the conflict is and who the villain really is.
When writing your own story, start with the big appeal and promise of your story idea, and then put that big promise in the second half of the story. Then make the first half of the story a mystery that sets up the second half of the story.
By doing this, you should never have a problem completing your story ever again.