One huge mistake novice screenwriters make is that they start writing with no clear goal. They don’t know where their story is going, who their characters are, or what theme they want their story to tell. The predictable result is either a half-completed screenplay or a poorly written one that falls apart after the first page.
Rather than try to write an entire screenplay at once, start with just the beginning and ending scenes. Get these two scenes right and they’ll form a framework for the rest of your story to fill in. The beginning scene should grab our attention and make us wonder what’s going on. Then the ending scene should explain what’s going on and what’s going to happen. Look at how this works in popular movies:
- “Star Wars” – Starts with a small battle scene. Ends with a big battle scene.
- “Top Gun: Maverick” – Starts with Maverick going to extremes in an experimental plane. Ends with Maverick going to extremes in combat.
- “Die Hard” – Starts with John McClane going to get back with his wife. Ends with John McClane leaving with his wife.
- “The Shawshank Redemption” – Starts with Andy being sent to prison. Ends with Andy escaping from prison.
- “Django: Unchained” – Starts with Django being freed from slavery. Ends with Django freeing his wife from slavery.
If you just focus on the starting and ending scenes, you can tell a complete story. Worry about the details later. Just get the starting and ending scenes to match up. The beginning scene should initiate some problem or question and the ending scene should answer that initial question.
Once you’ve gotten the framework of your story defined, then it’s just a matter of filling in the details. However, knowing your starting and ending scene means all your scenes in between know exactly where they’re going. Instead of writing meaningless action with characters who play no part of this tory later on, you can write lean, compelling scenes simply by knowing where your story is going to end up.
When starting any new screenplay, define the beginning and ending scenes first. Don’t worry about getting all the details. Just capture the basic idea and mood. Then you’ll be ready to write everything in between.