Every Scene is About Putting Things Back in Balance

Read most novice screenplays and you’ll run across scenes where very little happens. The scene exists solely to introduce characters and settings. Unfortunately, such scenes are boring. The moment any part of your screenplay bores the reader, you’ve lost.

The key to screenwriting is to make every part of your screenplay as fascinating as possible, and one way to do that is to keep in mind the purpose of every scene. It’s not to introduce characters or provide exposition. The whole purpose of every scene is to grab the reader’s attention and never let go.

Imagine watching a man carrying three balls in his arms. Boring, right? Now imagine that same man juggling those three balls. A little more interesting, but what if the man juggling three balls is also riding a unicycle across a tightrope above a pool filled with man-eating alligators? Isn’t that far more interesting than just watching a man juggle three balls?

To grab attention in every scene, you must understand that every scene is about putting things back in order or balance. Scenes are never static. Sometimes things are wildly out of order and the scene is about one character’s attempt to make things right.

For example, in the opening scene in “Fargo,” Jerry needs money. By meeting with two men in a seedy bar, Jerry hopes to solve his problem (imbalance) of not having enough money by hiring these two men to kidnap his wife. That’s an attempt to put things back in balance. From Jerry’s point of view, his life is out of balance and hiring two men to kidnap his wife will put his life back in order again.

Other times, a person’s life are already in order and a character struggles to keep it that way. In “Star Wars,” Luke has accepted staying on his uncle’s farm, so when he’s in Obi-wan’s home and Obi-wan tries to convince him to go with him, Luke wants nothing more than to stay on his uncle’s farm. To Luke, his uncle’s farm represents stability and order compared to the risk of going with Obi-wan to Princess Leia’s planet.

Scenes are either about a character facing chaos and trying to bring order, or a character in an ordered place and trying to avoid chaos.

In either case, a character has a definite goal. In the first case, the goal is to eliminate chaos and replace it with some type of order. In the second case, the goal is to stay in an ordered life and avoid any type of chaos.

Because characters must struggle to either restore balance or stay in balance, a scene is interesting just to see if the character succeeds or not. Instead of writing scenes that simply provide exposition, look at every scene as a way to introduce chaos into a character’s life.

Either that character’s life is already in chaos or it’s threatening to fall into chaos. A scene might start with chaos and end in order, or start with order and end in chaos. Either way, the scene provides movement in the story and that movement is far more interesting than a scene that simply introduces characters purely for exposition.

Chaos -> order or Order -> chaos. Provide those contrasts in the beginning and end of a scene and your scene will be far more interesting than any static scene.

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