When many people start writing a story, they quickly lose focus and wind up writing themselves into a dead end where they have no idea what should happen next. If they do finish the rest of their story, it’s often disjointed and unrelated to the beginning of the story.
The solution is to clearly identify one problem that your hero is trying to solve from start to finish. Solving this one problem drives the story and keeps it focused. Then every situation is about getting the hero closer to solving this initial problem or pushing him or her further away.
In “Die Hard,” the problem is simple. The hero wants to get back with his wife and the terrorists are what’s physically keeping him from getting back with his wife, but he needs to recognize his own faults to realize what’s truly holding him back is his own arrogance.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the problem is that a prince has been turned into a monster and he needs to find love before he can break this spell. The physical problem is finding someone to love. The emotional problem is learning to become a better person.
In “Invisible Man,” the problem is that the hero wants to get away from her abusive, controlling boyfriend. Now she’s constantly trying to achieve her freedom while being pulled back into her old world of being dominated and controlled.
Every story is about the hero struggling to achieve a goal and being pulled back to his or her old world that’s no longer satisfactory. This struggle appears to be physical, but it’s really emotional. When movies focus solely on the physical goal, they create a forgettable story. When movies focus on the physical and the emotional, they create a far more memorable story.
Think of every great movie and it’s always about solving a single problem identified in the beginning and not fulfilled until the end. Then think of lousy movies and you’ll notice that rather than focus on a single problem, lousy movies scatter their focus across multiple ideas and stories so nothing is unified and it turns out to be a complicated, disjointed mess.