The Story is the Foundation

Watch your favorite movie and strip away the action, costumes, special effects, and A-list actors. Then study the actual story to see how it’s constructed.

Where many novices go wrong is they focus on action but they forget that all the action in the world is meaningless if there isn’t a decent story to go along with it. People loved “Jaws” because it was the story of a sheriff who tries to redeem himself by killing a shark after the shark killed a little boy on a beach that he had opened up. People did not like “Jaws 4” as much because the story was ludicrous and the action too outlandish to make any sense.

So start with your basic story. All stories are like dominoes in that one event causes something else to happen, which forces the characters to react and do something, which causes something else to happen and so on. You can see this basic chain reaction in any story such as “Die Hard” like this:

  • John McClane flies from New York to Los Angeles to get back with his wife.
  • John McClane arrives at his wife’s corporate Christmas party just as terrorists take over the party and hold all the people hostage, but John McClane escapes.
  • John McClane tries to contact the police. To stop him, the villain sends men to find and kill John McClane, but he kills them first.
  • After finally contacting the police, John McClane is horrified when the terrorists ambush the SWAT team. To save them, John McClane uses the terrorist’s detonators to kill several terrorists.
  • The villain finally meets John McClane and wounds him by shooting out glass so he’ll step on it although John McClane escapes.
  • The villain finally has the corporate bonds he wants and herds the hostages to the roof to blow them up, but John McClane interferes and sends all the hostages back down.
  • The villain finally learns who John McClane’s wife is and holds her hostage, but John McClane rescues her and kills the villain.

Take any good movie and break it down into simple beats and you can see the bare foundation of the story right in front of you. That’s the type of structure your own story needs.

So before you tart writing the actual screenplay, take time to outline your story. If your story is exciting, then you’ll have a strong foundation for writing a great screenplay. If your story is choppy, boring, or confusing, then no matter what you do or how many A-list directors or actors you get with special effects, the screenplay will probably be awful.

The story is the foundation fo a great movie. Create a great story and that increases the odds of creating a great movie as well.

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