“Every single one of your screenplays should have goals, stakes, and urgency.”
If there was an official tattoo for screenwriters I think it should somehow incorporate three simple words: Goal. Stakes. Urgency. Maybe just GSU would be enough of a reminder once you understand the basic concept. I’ll credit Carson Reeves over at ScriptShadow for this simple yet powerful tip since I first read about it in his post Article – GSU!!! — here’s a taste of how he unpacks it:
Goal – “The character goal is the heart of your story. A character must be going after something or else that character is doing nothing. And a character who does nothing is inactive and inactive people are borrrrrrrrrrrr-ing.”
Stakes – “Once you have a character goal, you can establish your stakes. You do this by asking two very simple questions: ‘What does my character gain if he achieves his goal?’ And ‘What does my character lose if he fails to achieve his goal?’ The bigger the gains and losses, the higher the stakes.”
Urgency—”The most common way to do this is via a ticking time bomb, that point of no return by when your character needs to achieve his goal. You can throw ticking time bombs all over your screenplay so that the pace is always quick.”
I started writing these screenwriting tips back in ’08, but if I were starting them today I’d put Goal. Stakes. Urgency. in the top five tips, maybe right after Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip#1) and How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41).
And if your goal is to be a succesful screenwriter check out this post:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
P.S. And goal, stakes, and urgency don’t just apply to big Hollywood films, check out that great little indie film Winter’s Bone and see how long it takes for the filmmakers to get to GSU. (Hint: it’s within the first ten minutes.) Pieces of April and Buried also have GSU.