If you remember watching Saturday morning cartoons, occasionally a character would face a dilemma and that’s when an angel and a devil would pop up on their shoulder. The angel would tell the character what’s the right thing to do while the devil would tempt the character with a greedy and selfish solution.
That’s exactly what every scene in your screenplay must do to your character. Tempt the hero into doing the wrong thing and make doing the right thing hard. When you do that, every scene forces the hero to walk a tightrope and that makes it interesting.
In “Thelma and Louise,” the theme is that women are stuck in a male-dominated world so every scene emphasizes this. The women can either give in and allow themselves to be dominated by men or they can take the harder way out and strive for their freedom.
Near the end of “Thelma and Louise,” the two women rob a gas station. Although they’ve now gotten the police after them, this decision shows they’re willing to stand up for themselves and live without relying on a man.
Later when a policeman stops them, Thelma decides to take the initiative by pulling a gun on the cop and locking him in the trunk. Once again, she could have taken the easy way out and allow herself to her dominated by a male, but she chooses the harder way and puts herself in greater danger.
The final scene gives the women a final choice to allow themselves to be dominated by men (which means getting captured by the police) or going for freedom which means death. So they make their final decision that shows how they’re truly embraced their desire to be free.
Where bad movies often go astray is that they contain scenes that don’t offer this either-or dilemma to force the hero to make a decision. When a scene doesn’t constantly force the hero to make a decision, it’s like watching a tightrope walker strolling across a tightrope and suddenly seeing him walk across a perfectly flat and safe platform in the middle of the tightrope.
That would immediately kill any tension and suspense, which is why scenes that don’t challenge the hero weaken an overall story.
Constant and various pressure on the hero in every scene is what keeps a story interesting from start to finish so keep forcing your hero to make the same decision over and over again in different situations. That’s the key to writing effective scenes.