The easiest mistake to make when writing any story is to tell too much too soon. As soon as the audience understands everything, there’s little to maintain interest. The only time the audience needs to know everything is near the end of the story so they can understand the consequences of failure if the hero should lose against the villain.
Rather than reveal everything right away, draw it out details little by little. You may think this confuses the audience but stories are best when the audience is actively engaged by trying to figure out what’s going on. Audiences are bored when they’re too passive and know exactly what’s going on, because if audiences know what’s going on, there’s no chance of surprise and surprise is what makes stories interesting.
So dribble out details a little at a time. As a guideline, follow the rule of three where you introduce a detail, tease with a second detail, and then conclude with the complete answer.
In “Die Hard,” this rule of three occurs when John McClane first capture the bag of detonators from the terrorists, which he uses to save the SWAT team by blowing up several terrorists.
The second time we learn about the detonators is when John McClane spies the explosives rigged near the roof. That’s when John McClane realizes the terrorists have wired explosives to blow off the roof.
The third time we learn about the detonators is when the roof finally does blow up.
Another example of this rule of three occurs when John McClane first gets to the skyscraper and sees that his wife is using her maiden name.
This seems trivial until Holly confronts the villain and when he asks her name, she gives her maiden name.
The final time this information is used is when the news crew reveals Holly’s married name, which allows the villain to connect her to John McClane.
The rule of three generally introduces information, teases us with its existence a second time, and then finally pays off that information to show its importance in the story.
So teased information and dribble it out in groups of three. The more you keep the audience in suspense, the more mentally engaged the audience will be, and that will help create a stronger story for your screenplay.