Watch a typical baseball game and at the very least, it’s interesting because you want to know who will win in the end, even if you don’t know when that end might come. That’s the first rule of every scene. Make that scene interesting because you want to know who’s going to win in the end.
So the most crucial ingredient of every scene is to have the some sort of goal to keep the audience interested. That means every scene must lead somewhere.
In one scene in “Erin Brockovich,” the hero is trying to get information from a government clerk. The clerk is reluctant to give it to her so she makes sure she shows additional cleavage while leaning towards him. That simple conflict is enough to make that scene far more interesting than if she had just asked the clerk for some information and he gave it to her.
What makes baseball a little more exciting is when there’s something at stake. Initially baseball can be boring because there’s nobody on base, it’s the first inning, and nobody expects anything to happen although they hope it might. Now put a man in scoring position and suddenly the stakes are a little higher and thus more interesting. With nobody on base, the pitcher could give up a single and nobody would care. But if a man is on second base, the pitcher can’t give up a single without letting a run score, so the game is suddenly a little more interesting because something’s at stake.
In the opening scene of “Sicario,” the hero is on a government drug raid. The hero is armed and the drug dealers are armed. Suddenly lives are at stake, even though we don’t know what’s going on. Yet the scene holds our attention because when the bad guys shoot at the hero, it’s now a life and death situation.
What makes baseball even more exciting is when there’s a deadline. Watching the first inning is more boring than watching the ninth inning with the bases loaded, two outs, and the batter having three balls and two strikes against him. Now the next pitch will either be an out, a hit, or a foul.
Suddenly there’s a deadline because with each pitch, we know something interesting is going to happen. Even if the hitter fouls off the pitch, the suspense gets bigger because we know eventually the batter will either get a hit or get out.
A deadline is what makes every final battle scene far more interesting. At the end of “The Amazing Spiderman,” the villain (the Lizardman) is going to release a toxin in the air that will turn everyone into lizards. Now Spiderman must not only defeat the villain, but also do it before this deadline can occur. That makes that scene far more interesting than any earlier scenes.
So the key to any scene is this:
- Create a goal so the scene leads somewhere and the audience wants to know how it ends up
- Raise the stakes so we can see the consequences of losing
- Add a deadline so we can’t wait for the result that must happen soon
Now every scene can have all these elements, but the more you can add to each scene, the more interesting and compelling that scene will be. At the very least, you don’t want a boring scene because too many boring scenes will kill your story altogether.
So make sure your scene leads to a goal, puts something at stake, and/or has a deadline. Interesting scenes put together will eventually make an interesting movie.