Let the Audience Experience Triumph

In a bad action movie, the villain ties the hero to a chair in a locked room and pumps the room full of poison gas. When the villain goes to check if the hero is dead, the hero miraculously has not only escaped from the chair and the locked room, but also managed to escape from the poison gas. The problem is the story doesn’t show us how the hero managed this miraculous feat. By skipping over the hero’s miraculous escape, this miraculous escape feels like than a triumph than a cheating shortcut that a lazy screenwriter used to create a false sense of tension and excitement.

Don’t do this.

Show your hero’s triumph so the audience can experience that triumph. That makes the hero’s triumph even more exciting because now the audience feels like they were part of that experience as well.

Think of the first bad “Star Wars” prequel where the hero is locked in a room full of poison gas and magically uses the Force to survive. Without showing us how the hero survives, we have much less empathy towards the hero. Instead of feeling an emotional rush, we’re simply outside observers, detached and distant from the story.

Now think of the ending scene in “Die Hard” where John McClane confronts the last two terrorist with limited ammunition. As an audience, we get to experience the tension when we see John McClane limp towards the terrorists, knowing his ammunition is nearly gone. Then we get to see his cleverness in taping a pistol to his back. Finally, we get to see him use that pistol to kill the terrorists.

Because we get to see not only how he defeated the villains, but also the set up of the gun taped to his back, the entire scene is far more believable while keeping us emotionally rooted in the story. A lazy screenwriter might have John McClane suddenly pick up a pistol out of nowhere and shoot the terrorists, which would yank us out of the tory because we’d wonder, “Hey, where did that gun come from?”

By first setting up and foreshadowing how the hero plans to overcome his problem, this scene in “Die Hard” lets us experience the hero’s triumph. Strip away this foreshadowing and now that same scene is far less effective and interesting.

So don’t skip over crucial ways your hero overcomes obstacles. If you do, that’s a sure recipe for creating a bad movie.

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