To ensure that your story is on track, complete the first draft of your novel or screenplay, then answer the following questions (drawn from Lagos Egri’s superlative work on dramatic writing).
1. What is your story’s premise? For example: “Unswerving integrity delivers from disgrace.” That defines the moral premise/theme of your story.
2. What is your protagonist’s goal? What does your protagonist want, more than anything?
3. What is your protagonist’s compulsive, 100% trait?
4. What is your character insecure about? All characters want self-preservation and security.
5. Why is the character insecure about this condition? How did he or she develop that insecurity about the condition?
6. How did the character develop the condition about which he is insecure? What is this injury for which the character has a compulsive drive to escape? Backstory here. Provide a specific event or series of events that explain how he developed the condition. Those events caused a chain of reaction/action/reaction. Tell the tale.
7. What is the crisis that upsets the status quo? How does it affect the protagonist?
Why is the protagonist dissatisfied?
8. What is the dire necessity that spurs the protagonist to action and keeps him relentless to reach his goal? This is something that threatens his special insecurity.
9. How does hesitation to take action threaten to worsen the protagonist’s situation?
10. What decision will he make or action will he take to change things? This is his point of attack, the decision or action that starts the conflict.
11. Is the protagonist fighting for or against the status quo? Does he want to keep things the way they are, or change them because they’ve become intolerable?
12. Who is your antagonist? He must be diametrically and militantly opposed to the protagonist.
13. Why does the antagonist oppose the protagonist and his goal? What is the antagonist’s motivation?
14. What is the point of 1) contradiction and 2) conflict between them?
15. What is the unbreakable bond between the protagonist and antagonist? What is so much at stake that they can’t leave each other? Multiple reasons are good.
16. What is the wrong step the protagonist makes that starts the crisis?
17. How does this decision create another problem?
18. What does the protagonist do to rectify this new problem?
19. How does this response create another, worse, problem?
20. How does the final crisis, conflict, and resolution prove your premise?
Satisfactorily answering the set of twenty questions listed above will help to keep your characters and story on track.