Writing a script is hard work. Writing a great script even harder. No one sets out to write a bad script so what does it take to write a good one? In my many years as a script consultant reading and developing material I can sum it up with:
A good script is a great idea well told.
So what’s a great idea?
A great idea is a compelling premise, an original hook, a central idea that we’ve never seen before.
Hurt Locker about a bomb squad in Iraq is a highly original idea. The Hangover about three guys who lose the groom on the eve of his wedding is another example. Lars and the Real Girl about a man who falls in love with a blow-up doll is a very unique concept. Even Little Miss Sunshine, which uses a pretty conventional road trip conceit, has an original idea at its core.
All of these are examples of scripts that are based on great ideas.
But it’s not enough to have a great idea. You have to tell your story well.
So what does this entail? Well many things but there are some building blocks that need to be in place.
The story has to have a compelling protagonist with a clear goal that we care about them achieving.
The main character has to be in relationship with other characters who help or oppose their goal. They need to shed light on the protagonist and be engaged with them in a meaningful way.
Not expositional, on the nose or irrelevant. It has to define character not overshadow it.
The plot has to be tension filled and move forward with urgency and suspense around the outcome. The climax has to be satisfying and relate to the protagonist’s overall goal. We should feel the main character has been transformed by the story events and that the overall piece has a satisfying, emotionally compelling arc.
The script has to have a clear point of view and be about something specific. When the reader turns the last page or the audience leaves the theater they should know what you were trying to say even if your intention was simply to entertain.
While a lot of elements go into telling a story, if these building blocks are not in place chances are your story is not working as well as it can. And it’s probably not going to work successfully.
So what makes a good script?