No matter the medium - screenwriting, novel writing, or even an essay - the story is the most critical aspect. Without a good story, what do you have? Great characters are interesting, but where are they going? The scene you set is beautiful, but what's happening in it? You need to make an audience care about what's going on, and you do that with a story that entices them and makes them invested. So, what makes a good story? Today, I'm talking about the integral elements.
You need conflict! Don't shortchange yourself by minimizing the drama. Struggles and challenges are the lifeblood of any good story. A character just getting what they want right away makes for an uninteresting tale. Remember that conflict can come from both external sources and internal challenges, which can be helpful to think about when your story is light on the drama.
Just because you're writing something comedic doesn't mean your story should lack drama! Look at any comedy film, and you'll see the comedy builds from the conflicting situations the characters find themselves in.
What's your hook? What's the thing about your story that's going to bring an audience in? What is it about your story that makes it unique and different? A strong hook is the best way to sell your story and generate interest around it.
There are tons of unique stories that are considered good stories. These individual stories have all managed to be relatable in some way despite their very specific point of view. They all have broad themes that everyone can relate to, for instance, "not fitting in," "finding your family," or "good vs. evil." Recognizing your distinctive story's big relatable element and playing with that can help you reach a wider audience. For example, "Slumdog Millionaire" is a very specific story set in the slums of Mumbai. Thanks to the universal themes of society and class, upward mobility, and escaping one's circumstances, the film could reach and be relatable to a diverse audience. Many feelings are universal, no matter how different our backgrounds and culture.
Strong stories all have characters that act and sound like real people. It would help if you sold the idea that your characters could be out in the world existing right now. Come up with an extensive backstory for your characters, whether or not that makes it into the script. You'll better understand your character's motivations, and knowing the character's history will help you paint them in a realistic and whole light.
Stick the Landing
The ending, of course, should be strong. By the time you reach the ending of your story, the audience should feel like 1) it makes sense, 2) things have come together, and 3) when they look back to the beginning, they can see how all the threads started, moved in the middle, and then came together to form the ending. Having a strong finish often means a lot of pre-planning before you even begin writing, especially if you're writing a twist into your screenplay. You can always course-adjust if you need to along the way as you write and discover new things about your story.
While there are many elements to a strong story, often, the best story you can tell is the one that only you can tell. Your perspective is unique, so don't try to write like anyone else because you'll miss out on your greatest selling point. Look to yourself and your own experiences for inspiration. Use what you've been through to strengthen your stories and make them authentic to you. Audiences respond most to the truth, and the truth always makes a good story! Happy writing!