Give Every Scene a Surprise

Far too many people write boring scenes. Typically, such scenes exist solely to give information to the audience. A far better solution is to always make sure a scene surprises us.

If a scene lacks a surprise, it will feel boring. We expect something to happen and it does happen. Surprise somehow changes the hero’s life or the audience’s perception of the story.

In “Star Wars,” there’s a scene where Luke is cleaning C3PO and R2D2. The surprise comes when Luke accidentally triggers Princess Leia’s hologram. Suddenly Luke’s life has changed because he wants to know who Princess Leia is and why she needs help.

Changing the life of a character is crucial because it forces them to react and make a decision.

In “Room,” there’s an early scene where the hero (a woman) sits at a table, talking to the villain (a man). At first, this scene appears to be nothing more than a husband and wife arguing about finances and running a household.

Gradually, we learn that the hero is being held prisoner by the man in a one-room dungeon where he has kept her for the past seven years. What initially appears like a mundane conversation turns into a horrifying revelation for the audience. The hero already knows she’s trapped in a prison but the audience does not.

By surprising us, a scene can give information and move the story forward. Without a surprise, a scene will be boring. Imagine a scene where two people drive a car and then pull into a gas station to get gas. Then they leave again.


You need something to happen to change either the hero’s perception or the audience’s perception. If a scene fails to change either the hero or audience’s perception of the story, then that scene has simply failed.

So make sure every scene you write contains a surprise of some kind. It can be a big surprise or a little surprise, but it must change the hero or the audience. Without a surprise, you literally have nothing.

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