A couple weeks ago two young guys appoached me for some help on a commercial they were producing and when they pitched me the idea it sounded more like a mini-series than a :30 spot. I gave them a much simpler idea and they shot it the next day and all was right in the world.
Screenwriters often fall into the same trap that these guys did. Their stories get too complicated. They want to have too many characters. Their characters speak too much. I like simplicity, and I think audiences do too. That’s why I like this simple quote:
“A good movie is almost always a very simple story.”
Yes, there are exceptions. But think about these movies; Rain Man, North by Northwest, Rocky, Jaws, Juno, Cast Away, Sunset Blvd., Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz. The kind of movies that people return to again and again. One thing they have in common is they are simple stories that tap into basic human needs and desires; survival, significance, understanding, solving a problem, and connecting with others in the human race.
So if your story is lost in your screenplay it may be because you’ve gotten lost in making the story too complicated. You are either trying to say too much, go in too many directions, or simply haven’t connected the beginning of your story with the end. Look at what sets your story in motion (your inciting incident or hook) and then look at how your story ends and see if there is a connection.
I now declare the new KISS principle: Keep it simple screenwriter. (Though I should add Paul Lucey’s quote on the subject; “Write simple stories and complex characters.”)
By the way, Alex Epstein has a blog called Complications Ensure: The Craftt TV and Screenwriting Blog.
Related post: Simplicity in Screenwriting (tip 27)