Always Keep Surprising the Audience

Here’s the way to create a dull scene. Put two characters in a common setting like a restaurant. Then show these characters doing exactly what you expect in that restaurant.

Audiences don’t want to see the ordinary. They want to see something different and that means constantly surprising the audience.


In “Blindspotting,” a man is in a car with his two friends. What’s unexpected is that one of the man’s friends pulls out a gun. Since the man only has three days left on his probation, he wants to avoid any trouble with the police or he risks going back to jail. Thus the introduction of a gun in the car is not only a surprise, but also a threat to the man’s goal of staying out of prison.

Then the scene continues when each man finds more guns in the car until everyone’s holding two guns. Just seeing one gun in a car is a surprise, but seeing five or six guns in that same car is even more surprising.

Then this early scene in “Blindspotting” continues when the driver gets a phone call and suddenly says he has to work. That’s when the other two men in the car realize the driver works for Uber and has a pick up nearby.

Initially, this scene just looked like three friends in a car, eating fast food, smoking, and talking. Then it turns out the driver works for Uber. The surprises continue when the two men get out of the car and from the outside, we see that the car is jacked up in the air, which looks like the least likely Uber car you’ll ever see in your life.

In just that one scene, “Blindspotting” pulls two minor and two major surprises:

  • There’s a gun in the car. (Minor surprise)
  • There’s actually five or six guns in the car. (Major surprise)
  • The driver is an Uber driver. (Minor surprise)
  • The car is jacked up so far off the ground that’s it’s the least practical Uber car you’ll ever see. (Major surprise)

Study great movies and notice how many times a single scene constantly surprises you. Scenes are like jokes where they set up expectations and then shatter them with surprises. The more you can surprise the audience within a scene, the more interesting the scene.

In an early scene in “Fargo,” the expectation is that a man is going to meet two other men in a seedy bar. Then the surprises happen:

  • The man is late and the two waiting men are upset. (Minor surprise)
  • The man is there to discuss a criminal plot with the two waiting men. (Major surprise)
  • The man wants the two waiting men to kidnap his wife. (Major surprise)
  • The man explains why this plan will work. (Major surprise)

Surprises are the heart of every scene. Keep the audience off balance with the unexpected and they’ll stay riveted to the action. Give the audience exactly what they expect and the scene will bore them to death.

Keep surprising your audience as often as possible. The best scenes are the ones with the most surprises. (Watch scenes from your favorite movie and count the surprises it delivers.)

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