Screenwriting: What makes a Good Story?

There's more to screenwriting than simply creating characters, creating a storyline and filling in the details. Screenplays need to generate interest in the characters and/or storyline; basically viewers have to care what happens. But, what makes a good story?  Generally, screenwriters need to make their audience avid about the characters, and that includes both sides of the equation, the good and bad characters. 

Step 1: Wants and Needs

The first component of a good story is establishing the plotline, and this usually involves what a character wants or needs. This is going to vary by story, and sometimes these things are intangible. For example, in a movie about prisoners, these prisoners aren't generally going to want to find the Fountain of Youth. More than likely, they want freedom.

But, in other cases, it could be another person.  n romantic comedies, one person may be trying to win the love of another. In a murder mystery, a character may want to kill an enemy. Screenwriters will have to determine what their character really wants or needs.

Step 2: Creating Captivating Characters

Not only do screenwriters want to make an interesting plotline, they need to make characters that the audience really wants to get to know better. Screenwriters need to make interesting back-stories and realistic characters. If a character is too removed or outlandish, then the audience may not believe in them, even superheroes have some type of human fallibility. Oftentimes, it's the faults that make a character endearing.

A screenwriter needs to fully sketch out their characters. Some of the most popular screenwriters base their characters on somebody that they know. At least, using the personality and characteristics of a friend or acquaintance could be the start of a character.

Step 3: Conflict

If characters always immediately get what they want, it would make for very short movie. Conflict involves what's stopping a character from obtaining what they want or need. Conflict can be from external sources like the weather, other characters or even internal issues. Yet, all good stories need some type of conflict. Conflict is what the protagonist, or the hero and/or heroine, must overcome to reach their ultimate goal. The conflict will generally take up most of a screenplay since it's at the center of the drama. 

Screenwriters need to remember that even comedies have conflict. In this case, however, the conflict is meant to make the audience laugh.  For example, in the Hangover, the conflict was that the groomsmen lost the groom on the day of his wedding. The comedy is based on the groomsmen try to find the groom before the wedding starts.

Step 4: The Hook

A screenwriter needs to figure out what will bring in the audience. This is also known as the hook, and all screenplays must have it. The hook should be non-formulaic, meaning that it probably should be something original. While Hollywood does like cookie cutter movies, a screenwriter still needs to figure out a way to make a standard action screenplay different from its predecessors. 

Screenwriters that do come up with a great hook have a better chance of having their screenplay finally made into a movie.