Grab and Hold Attention with an Impossible Dilemma

Far too many writers think a screenplay must tell a story. Unfortunately, if your screenplay just tells a story, it won’t matter if the reader is bored reading it.

Instead, the purpose of a screenplay is always to grab and hold someone’s attention from start to finish. One of the best ways to do that is to set up an impossible dilemma from the start. Then people will want to know how the hero will resolve this seemingly impossible dilemma.

In “You’ve Got Mail,” a man and a woman are in contact with each other through the Internet. Although they enjoy each other’s messages, they don’t know who the other person is.

That by itself isn’t enough. The impossible dilemma occurs when the man runs a corporate bookstore that’s moving into a New York neighborhood and the woman runs an independent bookstore that’s threatened by the massive corporate bookstore opening nearby.

So the impossible dilemma is how can the man and woman fall in love when they’re actually business rivals? Finding this answer is what keeps our attention from start to finish because the answer isn’t finally resolved until the very last minute.

In “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the dilemma is that Native Americans are being murdered and the hero’s uncle is responsible. Yet the hero is married to a Native American woman so the dilemma is will the hero help his uncle continue to murder the Native Americans or will the hero stop his uncle and save the Native Americans?

Push your hero into a seemingly impossible dilemma from the start and that’s the foundation for a strong story. Omit an impossible dilemma and your story has little to hold our attention. If you can’t hold our attention, it doesn’t matter how good your story might be because nobody will ever finish reading it.

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