The biggest mistake novice screenwriters make is they try to tell a story. Now you may think telling a story is the purpose of a screenplay, but it’s not. The purpose of a screenplay is to entertain. There are many different ways to entertain. You can scare people (horror), make them think (drama), challenge them (mystery), excite them (action/thriller), make them laugh (comedy), or help them fantasize about love (romance).
What happens if you try to tell a story? Then it’s easy to get bogged down in telling (instead of showing) and writing scenes that serve no purpose other than to reveal exposition. When you try to tell a story, you risk focusing on making sure the audience has enough information to understand your story. That’s a sure-fire recipe for writing a dull, boring, incoherent screenplay.
A far better solution is to look at a screenplay as a magic act. You’re not writing to tell a story. You’re writing to create a mystery and entertain people. When you focus on entertaining and mystery, you gradually drip ousel we would have perfect information on what’s happening so there would be no tension, suspense, or drama. Instead, we’d just be patiently waiting to see what would happen with no surprit information while keeping people entertained. The best way to keep people entertained is to show them conflict that they don’t understand.
Think of all your favorite movies. For large parts of the movie, you have no idea what’s going on, but not knowing everything doesn’t detract from the story. It actually makes the story far more interesting.
In “Star Wars,” we have no idea why Darth Vader is after Princess Leia until he blows up her planet using the Death Star because she won’t tell him the location of the rebel base. Then we don’t know why Darth Vader wants the stolen Death Star plans until we finally learn that these plans can help the rebels find a weakness they can exploit.
All of this information is hidden from us from the beginning. That’s what makes “Star Wars” so interesting because we’re trying to figure out what’s going on from the start.
If George Lucas had written the screenplay with the intent of telling a story, he would have simply had various characters tell us exactly what’s going on from the start. Then the rest of the story would have been boring because there would be no tension, suspense, or drama.
Write a screenplay with the intent of telling a story and you’ll likely strip your story of any drama whatsoever. Write a screenplay with the intent of entertaining an audience and keeping a mystery as long as possible and you’ll likely create an interesting story.