“The Sting” is one of the best movies to study how to maintain suspense through twists and surprises. Ten years after “The Sting” won multiple Academy Awards, Hollywood decided to make a sequel called “The Sting 2,” which is one of the worst sequels ever created.
Surprisingly, “The Sting” and “The Sting 2” were both written by the same screenwriter. Yet the contrast between the two movies is incredible.
In “The Sting,” we bond with the main characters because we experience the events as they happen so we can see and appreciate the plot twists. The movie handles exposition by letting us see and experience events so we better understand the story.
On the other hand, in “The Sting 2,” we fail to bond with the main characters because most of the exposition is through dialogue. Rather than let us experience events and understand the plot twists, “The Sting 2” simply has characters tell us what’s going on through dialogue. That’s about as compelling as listening to an exciting story told through a newscaster, which is empty of emotion.
In the opening scene of “The Sting,” we see a group of con men fleece a victim, unaware that their victim is a runner for the mob. As a result, the mob boss decides to hunt down these con men. Because he kills one of the con men, the surviving con men decide to get revenge on the mob boss by fleecing him through the big con where the mob boss will lose half a million dollars.
Seeing and experiencing the events that motivate the mob boss and the con men draws us into the story so we now have an emotional stake in the outcome.
In comparison, “The Sting 2” simply relies on characters telling us their motives. Because we don’t experience or see the motivating events, the plot twists seem forced and come out of nowhere. “The Sting 2” is simply a movie that makes us feel like we’re watching a story being told rather than feel like we’re experiencing the story along with the main characters.
That’s the huge difference between a great movie (“The Sting”) and a lousy one (“The Sting 2”). When writing your own screenplay, focus on letting the audience experience events along with the main characters. Once audiences can emotionally understand the reactions of the characters, they’ll bond with those characters.
If you fail to let the audience experience motivating events, then all the plot twists in the world mean nothing. A story is more than interesting plots or special effects. A story is about getting the audience to bond emotionally with the characters.
Read myths from other cultures such as from Africa or Asia and you’ll find it hard to relate to characters interacting with hyenas or lions simply because for most Americans, this isn’t something common in their ordinary world although it’s common for certain kids in Africa and Asia.
That’s why it’s crucial for your story to let audiences emotionally understand and bond with the events your characters go through. Your story will never appeal to everyone so just make your story appeal to your target market. If your story can’t even appeal to your target market, it will wind up as hopeless as “The Sting 2”.