I just discovered a great little book called "Notes on Directing," by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich. It's aimed at people who want to direct theater, but I think it has valuable content for writers, too. It won me over when I read this:
"Don't change the author's words. Director Lloyd Richards said that if you continually find yourself itching to make changes to a script, consider whether you should give up directing and take up playwriting."
I like these guys!
They also advise that the director identify the story's compelling question. So if you are writing a play, a screenplay, or a novel, it's a good idea for you to have a compelling question in mind. Here's what they mean:
"Every good play has a basic "will she or won't she..," an essential question about the central character(s) that keeps the audience interested, a question around which all the action revolves."
They give the example of "Hamlet," in which the central question is whether he will avenge is father's death.
It's not just lofty drama that has such a question. In "Hangover," the question is whether they will find the missing groom in time for the wedding.
In romances, whether you're talking about "Romeo and Juliet" or "Brokeback Mountain," the question usually is whether the couple will end up together.
In action pictures it's whether the hero will manage to thwart the bad guys.
In some cases, the answer is pretty obvious from the start, and you have to put most of your effort into making the story interesting even though we can guess the ending. We know, for example, that James Bond is not likely to die.
In stories that are more character pieces, the compelling question may be more subtle and sometimes doesn't become clear until you've seen the whole movie or read the entire book.
Also, some stories combine a compelling plot story and a compelling character-based story. For instance, I really liked a little picture called "Gloria" (the 1980 original, not the remake). The compelling action story is whether Gloria will be able to protect a little boy from the mob. The compelling character story is whether and how this hard-bitten woman will be affected by having to care for a child.
When you can combine two compelling stories like that, you're on to a winner!
(You'll find great tips for creating characters and plots in my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite online and offline retailers.)