Here’s the number one mistake novices make in writing a screenplay. They fill their script with lots of scenes that serve no purpose other than to provide information to the reader and tell their story.
Nobody wants to be told a story. That’s about as exciting as sitting through a dull lecture in school. What readers (and audiences) really want isn’t to be told a story, but to be entertained, and to do that, your screenplay must be interesting.
To be interesting, something must be happening but we may not know what it is right away (suspense). When we do know what’s going on, we don’t know how it might turn out (tension). Finally, we want to see two people are striving for a goal so we want to know if they ever get it (conflict).
Suspense, tension, and conflict are the keys to telling an interesting story. Notice that all three can still tell a story, but their main purpose isn’t to provide exposition but to grab a reader’s attention to make them want to know more.
Suspense is about withholding information. Think of the opening scene in “Star Wars.” We have no idea what’s going on, but we immediately see a larger starship chasing and shooting a smaller starship.
Once the larger starship catches up to the smaller starship, we now have tension as we wait for the storm troopers to charge into the smaller starship, which is guarded by soldiers.
As soon as the first storm troopers step through the breach, they’re immediately met with fire, which is conflict. Now we want to know who’s going to win.
What happens if you strip away suspense, tension, and conflict? Then you get the typical novice screenwriter’s scene where two characters use their dialogue to provide information to the audience.
Dialogue is typically the worst place to provide exposition because it’s so easily missed and forgotten. Dialogue doesn’t let us experience the story. Instead, dialogue simply tries to spoon feed us the story.
On the other hand, suspense, tension, and conflict draw us in emotionally into the story. Even if we don’t know what’s going on, we want to find out more. That makes the audience active participants in a story as if they’re part of it.
So don’t use dialogue to provide exposition. Use suspense, tension, and conflict instead. These three ingredients will make your story more active and more interesting, and that can translate into a better overall screenplay.