Here’s what many novices do when writing a screenplay. They write a handful of compelling, exciting scenes. However, the rest of the screenplay consists of dull scenes meant to provide exposition and move the plot along to get to the next exciting scene.
This never works because it creates a mostly dull screenplay interspersed with too few exciting scenes to hold a reader’s interest.
Would you enjoy a hamburger if the buns were soft and delicious but the meat was rancid?
When you write a screenplay, you must make sure everything is interesting. Assume a reader starts reading your screenplay from the middle. Is it exciting and interesting? Even if the details may not be clear, each scene should be interesting by itself because it should show a character striving to reach a goal and getting foiled until the end.
Pick any scene in a good movie and you’ll see that each scene tells an interesting mini-story with a goal that’s either achieved or not by the end of that scene.
In the opening scene in “Fargo,” a man named Jerry goes to a bar to meet two ex-convicts he’s hired to kidnap his wife. Initially the two ex-convicts are upset because Jerry is late. This initial conflict immediately grabs our interest.
Once the two ex-convicts express their frustration at Jerry’s tardiness, they finally talk about the purpose of the meeting, which is to kidnap Jerry’s wife. By the end of the scene, Jerry has convinced the two ex-convicts to go through with his plan to kidnap his wife.
In the opening scene of “Die Hard,” the hero (John McClane) has just landed in Los Angeles and his goal is to get off the plane. The initial conflict is that John McClane is still terrified from the flight so the goal of a fellow passenger is to get John McClane to relax by chatting with him and telling him how to relieve jet lag by scrunching his toes in a carpet. By the end of the scene, John McClane is more relaxed than he was at the beginning and he gets off the plane.
At the beginning of every scene, a character has a goal. By the end of that scene, we learn whether that character achieved that goal or not. As long as every scene has a goal, however trivial it may seem, that’s enough to maintain interest.
Ideally, even seemingly trivial scenes set up ideas that are paid off in later scenes. In the opening scene of “Die Hard,” this seemingly trivial scene of John McClane being tense from flying contains the crucial set up of getting him to scrunch his toes in the carpet, which will result in his handicap of running around in his bare feet for the rest of the story.
Make sure every scene you write contains a mini-story and goal of some kind to hold the audience’s interest. As long as you can keep an audience’s interest, your screenplay won’t have any dull spots. Once you eliminate any boring scenes in your screenplay, you’ll have an entire story that’s interesting and compelling from start to finish.