In dramatic stories, the characters ARE characters because they are striving for something, because they are fighting for something. In response to a problem or an opportunity or a frustrated desire, or a fear or anxiety, they ACT. There is a sense of urgency involved. The characters MUST act, and they must do so now, not tomorrow or next week, because if they wait the problem promises to get a whole lot worse; and the consequences of not acting or failing in one’s quest involve other threats and risks that invariably make the stakes very high. This is the essence of the dramatic grammar of every dramatic story, a grammar that outlines and describes in general terms the nature of every dramatic story, whether it be a Greek tragedy or the latest Tarantino film.
When one looks at dramatic stories in this way one can easily deduce that at the heart of every dramatic story is a POWER STRUGGLE. Characters with opposing goals or contradictory agendas compete against one another. This throws them into conflict, and the story advances with each action that each character employs in order to dominate and win. Sounds rather brutal, doesn’t it? Sounds like an action/adventure film. But in fact the form applies to every type of story there is, if the story is dramatic. It applies to comedy and to documentary, to romance and horror, and even TVCs.
If you are writing a dramatic screenplay you have to be able to identify the central power struggle at the core of the narrative. Who is waging it and why? What do the different sides want? What is at stake? What happens if one side or the other loses? The dynamic motion of EVERY dramatic story is a movement of characters in which a character - through action - moves from being a VICTIM to a VICTOR (the happy ending), or vice versa - from a VICTOR to a VICTIM (Chinatown, for example). If your character doesn’t change from being one to the other, and if the evidence for why they have changed isn’t clear and present, then the screenplay will fail.