Every scene must be interesting and hold the audience’s attention. Any scene that fails to do so simply hurts the overall screenplay. One way to make sure a scene holds an audience’s attention is to change a relationship. The two types of relationships are between characters and between characters and the audience. Scenes must change one of these relationships to stay compelling.
Changing a relationship between characters means one character enters a scene with expectations that get shattered by the end. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero goes out to dinner with her boyfriend, thinking he’s going to propose to her. Instead, he dumps her. That drastically changes her relationship with her boyfriend.
In “Bad Moms,” the hero is at breakfast with her son and husband when the hero asks her son about getting a D in one of his classes. To her surprise (and the audience’s amusement), the husband high fives the son and says, “Way to go,” as if to celebrate this low achievement. We expect the father to be upset like the mom, but our expectations are shattered in a humorous way, which bothers the hero.
Look at all dramatic scenes in your favorite movies and you’ll find that a major relationship changes between the main characters. In “The Crying Game,” the hero is getting seduced by what he thinks is a woman. Then he suddenly realizes the woman is actually a man. That drastically changes the relationship between the two of them.
In “Die Hard,” the hero’s expectation at arriving at his wife’s office Christmas party is that he’ll have a chance to get back together with her. However after he sees that she’s using her maiden name again, he gets upset and instead of making up, they fight. That changes that relationship temporarily.
Another way to change a relationship is between a main character and the audience. In an early scene in “Legally Blonde,” the hero is in a clothing store and the sales clerk is planning to take advantage of the hero, thinking the hero is just a dumb blonde. However when she tires to con the hero, the hero catches the scam and calmly exposes it to show that she’s not a dumb blonde after all. While this changes the relationship between the hero and the sales clerk, the sales clerk is a minor character. This scene really changes the relationship between the hero and the audience because now we have much greater respect for the hero than before.
In an early scene in “Rocky,” Rocky goes back to his tiny apartment and talks to his pet turtle. That shows a compassionate side of him so he doesn’t look just like a thug who’s all muscle and no brains.
Changing relationships in a scene makes that scene come alive. If your scenes feel flat and uninteresting, look for ways to change a relationship somehow for good or bad. In “Pulp Fiction,” there’s a scene where the two hit man are in an apartment and a guy rushes at them, firing a pistol madly until he’s out of ammunition. Yet miraculously, all his shots miss so the two hit men calmly gun this guy down, but this experience changes the relationship between the two hit men forever.
Change a relationship in a scene. That will hold an audience’s attention more than any amount of sex, violence, or special effects can ever do.