The Magic Questions Of Screenwriting


I was fortunate enough to listen to Marilyn Horowitz at a seminar where she expounded on the four key questions of good storytelling:

WHAT IS THE MAIN CHARACTER’S DREAM?

AKA their goal. What do they want (outer goal) versus what do they need (inner goal)? Be the main character in your movie. Locate the emotional heart of the main character and their goals.

WHAT IS THEIR NIGHTMARE?

AKA their obstacle. Why haven’t they achieved their dreams? Never think of your hero without a problem, conflict or a villain to hamper them. What are their issues and consequences of their actions (cause and effect)? Don’t judge your villain because your main character needs them to face their demons. Synchronize and polarize your main character’s goal with that of the villain. You will often find that the main character and the villain want the opposing sides of the same thing.

Raise the stakes and add complications to their journey. There are situational, internal and inter-relationship conflicts to play with. Don’t be too subtle. Life has changed and audiences are having more intense experiences which need to be reflected in their entertainment.

WHO/WHAT WOULD YOUR MAIN CHARACTER DIE FOR?

A death is a metaphor for key change in attitude or influence on a situation. Add an element of co-incidence and fate here to boost the stakes. It must be organic to the story so it doesn’t seem contrived.

WILL THEY ATTAIN THEIR DREAM?

Put simply, yes or no. However, yes and no makes a better story. They don’t fulfill all their original intentions, but learn something along the way.

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