One element that makes for a compelling story is to have your hero try to achieve an impossible goal. Audiences love watching an underdog overcome challenges so make the goal as difficult as possible to keep your story moving forward.
The more impossible the goal for the hero, the more intriguing the story. Imagine a hero whose goal is to go home after a long flight in space. Not very compelling. Now toss in a killer alien, eliminate any chance for specialized weaponry, and you have “Alien.”
Sometimes your hero may start with an impossible goal such as Remy in “Ratatouille” who wants to work as a chef, but he’s a rat and rats aren’t allowed in restaurants.
However, sometimes the hero starts out with a normal life and suddenly the villain appears to create an impossible goal. In “Alien,” the crew members just want to get home, but suddenly that simple goal of getting home is made impossible by the carnivorous alien.
Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” just wants to get back with his wife, but that goal is made nearly impossible by terrorists storming the building and taking everyone hostage.
Even “Thelma and Louise” just want a vacation, but that goal is made impossible after Louise shoots Thelma’s potential rapist.
When thinking of your own story, create your hero’s goal in one of two ways. Give your hero an impossible goal to start with or give your hero a normal goal, but then make that normal goal impossible to achieve.
By thinking of your hero’s impossible goal from the start, you can avoid creating a story that’s ultimately boring and meaningless. By creating an impossible goal, you follow the basic story structure of giving an audience a chance to cheer for an underdog and stay glued to the edge of their seats to find out how in the world can the hero possibly achieve this impossible goal when faced with an overpowering villain.
An impossible goal combined with a powerful villain automatically makes your story compelling, and that’s the first step to creating a great screenplay is starting with a great story.