Most novices write flat, dull, boring scenes that serve no other purpose than to provide exposition to the story. To write an effective scene, the best approach is to give all characters in a scene a hidden agenda that puts them in direct conflict with the other characters in a scene.
In the opening scene in “Fargo,” a nervous man named Jerry is meeting with two men he plans to hire so they can kidnap his wife. A novice might write this scene by simply providing details about how the kidnapping should go and what will happen next.
Instead, there’s conflict right away because Jerry is late to the meeting. So instead of talking about the plan, the conflict stems from the hidden agenda behind the two sides. Jerry wants to get right into the details of talking about the kidnapping plan while the two kidnappers’ agenda is to let Jerry know they’re upset for waiting an hour for Jerry to show up.
This hidden agenda creates greater interest and conflict in the scene, making the exposition far more interesting than if it was just told to us like a novice screenwriter might do. Best of all, this hidden agenda reveals the personalities of these major characters right away.
In the opening scene of “Inglorious Basterds,” a German commander, known as the Jew Hunter, is talking to a French farmer in his farmhouse. On the surface, the conversation is nothing more than the German commander asking if the French farmer knows where a Jewish family might have gone.
However, the hidden agenda is that the French farmer is hiding the Jewish family and that German commander’s hidden agenda is to get the French farmer to reveal this information.
When two sides have conflicting hidden agendas, it can’t help but create a far more interesting scene than one that simply provides exposition. The key to writing a scene is to have two sides with a hidden agenda and reveal this hidden agenda by exposing their personalities.
The next time you watch a boring scene in a bad movie, chances are good it lacks a hidden agenda. Then watch a great scene in a good movie and look for the hidden agenda in the characters that also reveals their personalities.
Hidden agendas make every scene far more interesting so hide the motivation of your characters and reveal their personalities in the process. Your screenplay (and audience) will thank you.