I plan to go into more detail on this topic in a future post but for now, let me just say, before you commit to any story idea be sure that something BIG happens, something that is a life or death matter for the characters. That’s why stories about war and gangsters are always popular. The stakes are very high, and we in the audience are on the edge of our seats awaiting the outcome.
The death in your screenplay can be literal – in Casablanca, Victor Laszlo will be killed if he stays in Casablanca – but when writing a screenplay, you don’t necessarily need the threat of an actual death. Death can also mean a difficult change or challenge, like an important birthday to a high school girl, as in Sixteen Candles, or an important court case to a struggling lawyer, as in The Verdict, or a metaphor, as in Failure to Launch, in which Tripp is still living at home at 35 and his parents hire Paula to seduce him into moving out.
Take a moment to consider what the life and death situation in your own screenplay is, and if you don’t have one, you might want to reconsider your characters’ motivation.