One common mistake novices make in writing a screenplay is that they try to tell a story. That usually means dumping information as exposition on to the audience as quickly and often as possible. This information dump can’t help but create a dull and boring story.
Your goal as a screenwriter is never to tell a story. Your real goal is to grab and hold an audience’s attention.
If you can’t grab and hold someone’s attention, you can’t tell a story. Only after you grab and hold someone’s attention can you tell a story.
There are many ways to grab attention but one common technique is to create a mystery. Think of the opening scene in “Star Wars” where we see one starship chasing another. We have no idea what’s going on, but we’re intrigued and rooting for the smaller starship (Princess Leia’s starship) that seems to be losing.
Notice that grabbing attention isn’t about giving us information but withholding it. Because we want to know what’s going on, we want to keep following the story.
Once a story has grabbed attention, the next step is to hold that attention. A common technique to hold attention is to introduce ideas and then suspend telling the conclusion. In “Star Wars,” we initially don’t know why the bigger starship is chasing the smaller one.
Then later we learn that the bigger starship is controlled by Darth Vader and he’s trying to capture Princess Leia, but once again, we don’t know why. Then we don’t know what Princess Leia hid in R2D2 and why R2D2 and C3PO need to escape.
By constantly introducing ideas and withholding their answer, stories can hold our attention.
So stop telling stories. Always focus on grabbing and holding attention. Once you can do that consistently from start to finish, then you can tell your story.