In every scene, something should go wrong. There’s nothing more tedious than watching a scene that acts like normal life where nothing exciting happens. Just watch people in any public area and you’ll see people eating lunch, shopping, and talking on the phone. In most cases, nothing happens because there’s no sense of a problem or danger occurring. To make a scene interesting, you always need to show what’s normal and then show a problem.
In the opening scene of “Die Hard,” the hero is arriving in an airplane to Los Angeles. That’s fairly mundane and trivial, but the scene gets interesting when we see how the hero seems tense and frightened at the whole ordeal of flying to the point where his fellow passenger suggests a way for him to unwind by scrunching his toes in the carpet. Then the scene gets even more interesting when the hero reveals his gun and claims he’s a cop. Both of those are two revelations that are unusual from the norm. Take a normal scene and throw in something unusual.
One of the most memorable scenes in “Pulp Fiction” occurs when the two hit men are in an apartment, confronting a group of young men and Samuel L. Jackson’s character starts spouting off a Biblical phrase before the two hit men gun down all the men in the apartment. Seeing and hearing someone quote from the Bible right before they kill someone is definitely an interesting twist on how you think most hit men kill their victims.
The final confrontation scene in “Fargo” is about a police officer finding the criminal. Except in “Fargo,” we see the criminal shoving the body of his partner into a wood chipper. That’s different. Then we see that the police officer is pregnant. That’s also different. A bad movie would have a typical cop confront the criminal, struggle, and then finally catch the criminal. “Fargo” makes this scene far more interesting because the basic elements of the scene are something we’ve seen before, but the details are different enough to grab our interest.
One way that most people waste time is by coming up with a completely original story. There is no such thing. Come up with a story that we’ve all seen before (boy meets, girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl) and put a unique twist on it. “Sleepless in Seattle” had the man and woman in two completely different cities. “While You Were Sleeping” had the woman pretending to be the girlfriend of a man in a coma. “WALL-E” was about a garbage-cleaning robot falling in love with a futuristic robot.
nWhat will make your story special won’t be showing us what we’ve seen before, but what we haven’t seen before. We’ve all seen conflicts between a mother and a son, but we’ve never seen the son pretend to hang himself or blow his head off with a gun like in “Harold and Maude.” If we see that scene again in another story, it will be too familiar once again, so the goal is to keep putting your own unique style and personality into your story and write each scene in a way that only you could create. When you can do that, that alone will be different enough to set your story apart from the generic clones too many other people are trying to write based on today’s blockbusters.