This past summer (1999) 12 movies earned more than $100 million at the U.S. box office. Though they ranged from low budget horror to big budget sci-fi western, and included romantic comedy, broad comedy, children's special effects comedy, mystery thriller, occult thriller and a classic animated love story/adventure, they all had five things in common:
1. Each one had a HERO, a main character we rooted for, and whose motivations drove the story forward;
2. We IDENTIFIED with the heroes, we put ourselves inside those characters psychologically, and experienced emotion through them;
3. The heroes each pursued at least one clear, visible DESIRE, which they had to accomplish by the end of the film, either by stopping the bad guy, winning the love of another character or saving a terrorized child;
4. They faced seemingly insurmountable OBSTACLES in pursuing their goals; and
5. In facing those obstacles, they had to find more courage than they'd ever exhibited.
As I outline in great detail in 'Writing Screenplays That Sell,' these are the five ESSENTIAL components nearly all Hollywood movies contain, and there are proven ways of effectively employing these elements in your screenplay. Without them, your script will have a much more difficult time getting sold, getting made or reaching your intended audience.
Additionally, two simple questions will do an immense amount to strengthen both the story and character development in your screenplay:
~~ 1) WHAT IS YOUR HERO'S DESIRE? What compelling goal does your hero HAVE to accomplish by the end of the movie, and why does he desperately want that? The answer to these questions will define your story concept, propel the plot forward, give the reader a specific outcome to root for and lead you deeper into the inner motivations of your character.
~~ 2) WHAT TERRIFIES YOUR HERO? On the plot level, this question will force you to determine which obstacles the hero must face to achieve his objective -- what's at stake for him, what's he up against and which conflicts will give the story its necessary emotion? And on the level of character growth and theme, your hero's emotional fear will reveal his inner conflict: the wounds from his past, the identity he clings to, the risks he is desperate to avoid and the arc the story will lead him through as he finds his necessary emotional courage.