I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on script writing. However, as a moviegoer and someone who has been teaching media for years, here’s are the elements I want to see in a screenplay that ultimately have the potential to be a great movie.
5. Something has to be at stake. What does your protagonist need or want? But, more importantly, what happens to your character if he or she does not achieve the goal? Something has to be at risk. Who lives? Who dies? Who profits? Who loses? When you take this type of approach, you will care for the characters more. Classic examples of what’s at stake are Luke in Star Wars and Frodo in Lord of the Rings.
6. Character Arc. I want to see characters change and grow. If everybody stays the same, frankly, it’s boring. Maybe that’s why I love The Moral Premise because it requires the characters to change, and we visually see it in a physical state. Examples are Rain Man and True Grit.
7. Action. Obviously, something has to happen. Most movies do a good job in the first act and the third act. The stuff that happens in the middle is where the story falls apart. I’m not talking about explosions or car chases. There are other ways to create a sense of action. The point is something has to happen within that hour to hold your attention. Examples are Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau.
8. Dialogue. Sometimes I think dialogue is a lost art. I realize writing good dialogue is the most difficult thing in scriptwriting. Either you have the talent or you don’t. but when you hear good dialogue, it’s truly a delight. Some good examples would be Fargo and Juno.
9. Pacing. How many movies have you seen where you want to fall asleep or you’re struggling to understand what’s going on? This is a result of bad pacing. You need to give enough information to keep people engaged without overwhelming them. Examples of good pacing are Super 8 and Up.
10. A strong payoff. I can’t think of how many movies I have sat through where I was totally frustrated and felt betrayed because the ending simply fell off the cliff. No conclusion. No wrap-up or resolution. We all want some type of closure. I’m not asking that every detail be nicely and conveniently tied up. But, come on, there has to be some payoff at the end. The Book of Eli and Hoosiers have strong payoffs.
Conclusion. As I said, there’s probably no correct answer to what makes good story structure. Sure, you can read the books. But the best advice is to trust your gut. Draw from your inspiration and ask yourself is this going to entertain my audience? Have I taken them on a journey? Is this a movie people will be rewarded for investing two hours of their time.