Create and Maintain a Consistent Audience Experience in Every Scene

One way to look at a story is to imagine it as a video game. In a video game, the challenges get progressively tougher, but the overall challenges are mostly the same. For example, a simple game like Donkey Kong is all about climbing levels to rescue a girl from a gorilla, all the while doing barrels being thrown or rolled down the levels.

A movie screenplay must tell a story like that as well. Think of “Die Hard” where all the action is about the hero battling an army of terrorists. At first the hero defeats the terrorists fairly easily using a pistol. Then the terrorists start hunting him down, but each battle is still mostly about one man fighting an army of terrorists.

The basic conflict remains the same (fighting terrorists) but how the hero does this varies from using a pistol to using a machine gun to using explosives to fighting with his fists. That’s basically the same formula every movie must go through.

First, identify the basic conflict. In “Die Hard,” it’s fighting terrorists single-handedly. In “Star Wars,” it’s about futuristic space battles between spaceships and hand held laser pistols and rifles. In romantic comedies, the basic conflict is about a two people trying to find true love in each other.

What happens if your screenplay fails to stay consistent? Then you wind up with an incoherent mess. There’s a strange story about a screenwriter who wrote a script about a dog that gets separated from his family and then follows them cross country to find them again.

Initially, this script creates the challenge of a single lost dog trying to reunite with his family. As a family-oriented story, we can expect the dog to face dangerous challenges but survive and eventually reunite with his family for a happy ending.

But that’s not the way the screenwriter wrote this story. Instead, halfway through the story after the dog has lost his family and struggled to find them again by traveling cross country, this dog gets picked up by a drug dealer who shoots the dog, paralyzes his hind legs, forcing the dog to travel the rest of the country by dragging his bloody and paralyzed limbs behind him for the remainder of the story.

Needless to say, this screenplay was never made.

The main fault is that it starts off pleasant thrills and danger. Then it becomes a true horror story in the second half, making it completely inconsistent with the first half. The only way to fix this problem is to make both halves consistent. Either make the first and second half family friendly or make the first and second half horrifyingly bloody. Either way would work, but shifting tone in the middle of the story jars the audience out of the story completely.

So the key is to maintain consistency in every scene. If you’re writing a horror movie, every scene must evoke dread and horror in some way. If you’re writing a comedy, every scene must evoke laughs and humor.

Watch a great horror movie and you’ll see that every scene includes some element of horror. Watch a great comedy movie and you’ll see that every scene includes some element of humor.

Consistency from start to finish can create a unified, focused story, and that’s what makes a great movie.

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