Would you ride a rollercoaster that never rose up or dipped down, but just took you on a ride along a flat surface? That would be boring. Yet that’s how too many screenwriters write scenes.
The typical boring scene is about something happening but whatever happens is of no consequence. For example, imagine a woman telling a bunch of kids to go to sleep. Nothing exciting there. Now imagine the scene beginning with the woman telling the kids to go to sleep, the kids going to sleep, and the woman turning out the lights. Boring because nothing happens.
Nothing happens because the scene is stable from beginning to end. To make a scene interesting, you have to disrupt the hero’s world.
Disrupt the hero’s world in the beginning and the scene is now about trying to put the world back together again. Suppose a woman is going to put some kids to bed and a monster attacks. Now the woman’s goal is to protect the kids. That’s far more interesting than watching a woman put some kids to sleep.
What if the disruption occurs at the end of the scene? Now we see a woman putting kids to bed and we might think that’s kind of boring, but when we get to the end and see a monster hiding under the bed, now we’re intrigued enough to pay attention to the next scene.
The original scene of a woman putting kids to bed is boring because nothing happens and nothing threatens to change the hero’s world. If a monster is hiding under the bed, that immediately disrupts the hero’s world and now the audience is paying attention.
Put the disruption in the middle of the scene and it has the same effect. The woman’s world is peaceful in trying to put kids to bed, and then a monster shows up and she must now protect the kids from the monster. So no matter when the disruption occurs, it always threatens the hero’s world and then the hero must struggle to bring the world back to normal again.
Every story is about the hero trying to bring his or her world back to normal while dealing with constant disruptions. In “Star Wars,” Luke originally wants to keep his world stable by staying on his uncle’s farm. Then he tries to keep his world stable by going along with Obi-wan but hiding behind him rather than doing anything on his own.
Once Luke gets trapped on the Death Star, he starts learning to take the initiative. Instead of striving for stability, Luke actually strives for disruption by deciding to rescue Princess Leia. However, he’s striving for a higher level of stability that includes the safety of Princess Leia.
Once he rescues Princess Leia, Luke’s next challenge is to get her free of the Death Star. While this is a disruption, it’s meant to bring back the early stability when Princess Leia was not a prisoner. Finally when the Death Star approaches, Luke destroys it to protect the stability of his world by saving Princess Leia.
Scenes must disrupt the hero’s world and then the hero either struggles to bring it back to normal or struggles to create a higher level of stability. As long as the hero’s struggling, your scenes will be interesting. If your hero can sleepwalk through a scene without thinking, that’s a sign your scene needs help, or needs to be deleted completely.