Nothing makes a story move faster than a deadline. Without a deadline, there’s no reason for the hero to do anything. With a deadline, the hero must achieve a goal by a certain time or else some Horrible Consequence by the villain will hurt someone close to the hero. Before writing your screenplay, identify:
- A deadline created by the villain
- The Horrible Consequences that will happen if the villain isn’t stopped
- Who is close to the hero who will be hurt if the Horrible Consequence happens
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the deadline is stated right up front. The handsome prince needs to have someone fall in love with him by a certain time or else he’ll be stuck as a horrible monster forever. The hero, Belle, has to save the prince before the deadline.
While “Beauty and the Beast” states the deadline in the beginning, most movies hide the deadline from the audience. In “Avatar,” we don’t know that the humans want to rip up the Home Tree by a certain time to get at the minerals, but that hidden deadline drives the story right from the start. In “Under Siege,” we don’t know that the terrorists want to launch nuclear missiles, but that goal drives the story in the background.
Sometimes this deadline isn’t defined until later in the story. In “The Terminal,” the villain (the guy in charge of the airport terminal) wants to get rid of the hero from the airport and decides to set a deadline. Either the hero leaves or the villain will deport the hero’s friends. Although this deadline doesn’t start the story, it comes from the villain only after the villain has exhausted all attempts to get the hero out of the terminal.
Deadlines push the story forward and create a sense of urgency. The hero has to act now before if the hero fails to act, the villain will win, create some Horrible Consequence, and all will be lost. Make sure you have a deadline because that alone will heighten the tension of your story.