For those who want to learn screenwriting online, the first step is to truly understand the definition of “story.” That was the discussion of my last piece. Essential, a story is defined as the struggle of a hero, fighting an obstacle, to achieve a goal. In this article, I’m going to take things one step further. This is what you need to know in order to make your story more compelling.

  1. The bigger the obstacle, the more interesting the story. In the example of Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant is the obstacle. He’s not an angry dwarf, or a surly leprechaun. It’s a mean, angry giant who eats the bones of Englishmen.
  2. The better the goal, the more interesting the story. Once again, using this fairytale as an example, the goal is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Not the bronze or silver eggs. First place, baby!
  3. And finally, the story doesn’t begin until your audience can identify the hero, obstacle and goal. Until then, you’re just boring them… begging them to find something better do to with their time.

For students who want to learn screenwriting online, this is the most important lesson you’ll ever learn. Sadly, I think most courses make this concept unnecessarily complicated. Good screenwriting isn’t easy, but it’s simple. If you can implement this, your stories will improve dramatically.

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Think about action movies. They’re thrilling because obstacles are constantly being thrown in the main characters way. Just when you thought the hero escaped the crashing airplane by diving out the window holding onto a parachute, the villain chases after him and fights him over it. This doesn’t just apply to James Bond movies, it hold true for drama and comedy as well.

Take the brilliant and popular show, The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred gets tons of huge obstacles thrown in her way, each one bigger than the last. The couple that she’s property of are high ranking zealots. They can’t be reasoned with or ignored like ordinary people. Nor is Offred’s escape from Gilead practical, because she doesn’t want to leave behind her daughter. And she’s surrounded by other handmaids, many of whom she can’t trust. All of her obstacles are enormous, and this makes for great drama. And what is her goal? It’s the most rootable goal of all: freedom.  Freedom from emotional and physical abuse. It’s not like she wants something less consequential, like a softer bed or a more comfortable bonnet. So the goal is very big, and the obstacle is formidable.

Finally, the writers of this show don’t hide the obstacle and the goal. It’s not vague or open for interpretation. They make it very clear. From what I read, most new writers don’t quite get this concept and it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of whatever online screenwriting course they’ve taken. Click here to learn more about script writing online. In that article, I’ll discuss the difference between plot and emotional story.

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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