"Who wants what from whom?
What happens if they don't get it?
– David Mamet
In the beginning..."Why Now?"
This is one of the most important questions you need to answer as you develop your story idea.
If you’re going to put your character through this arduous ordeal, testing all of their spiritual and psychic resources and their resolve in order to teach them some profound human lesson, then you really should know one thing:
Many of my stories, those of my students, and those of the movies that I’ve seen, fail or succeed on this all-important question.
Let’s look at some of our standard examples for WHY NOW?...
I, Tonya: Today, Tonya Harding has been asked to tell her side of the story. But it’s not so simple and in the process, although she rightfully believes in her talent and the injustices in her life, she allows this single-minded quest to become the core of her self-esteem. That's not the real answer to her problems.
Three Days of the Condor: because Joe Turner’s casual investigation of the possibility of an “inner” CIA network has been discovered and he and his colleagues have been targeted for assassination. But he’s going to learn that you don’t fool around with the CIA. He tells his boss, “I actually trust some people.” That’s a problem when you work for the CIA!
Maria Full of Grace: because she’s pregnant and lost her job and is offered what appears to be “easy money.” But she’s going to learn that being a mom carries much, much more responsibility.
The Godfather: because there was a near-fatal attempt on Michael’s father’s life and now he learns it’s difficult to resist inheriting the legacy of his family’s criminal empire. He learns he has no choice.
Get Him to the Greek our hero gets his dream: to hang out with his rock idol, but this becomes a nightmare when he learns that his idol is a manipulative, infantile, selfish drug addict. Aaron Green makes this choice fully expecting to live his fantasy of being friends with Aldous Snow. Oh boy — has he got another think coming!
In each of these, a shattering or forceful event — one that the protagonist has unintentionally caused — forces him/her to take the journey.
Why? Because today, even though it's a day like any other day--is a day that promises change.
This “Why Now?” is the most important moment in conceiving your screen story.
“Because today your protagonist will begin a journey in which they gain understanding, choose to change, or recognize that their traits are flawed.”
That’s how “Why Now?” works and without it you cannot start your story.