Make Every Scene Compelling

One common problem with novice screenwriters is that their screenplay contains a handful of interesting scenes. Then to get the characters from one interesting scene to another, the screenplay contains lots of dull, boring scenes that exist solely to provide information tot he audience.

Don’t do this.

Think of every scene as a mini-story. Every scene must be compelling because this is what holds an audience’s attention, scene by scene.

In “Pulp Fiction,” two hit men are on their way to retrieve a suitcase from four young men who have it. Although the two hit men talk about trivial stuff about hamburgers in Europe, it’s still an interesting scene by itself even if it has nothing to do with their job, which is to kill people.

A poor screenwriter would simply have had the two hit men drive to the scene solely to shoot the four young men in an exciting gun battle. “Pulp Fiction” made the scene before the gun scene exciting and interesting.

Every scene needs to tell a story and the basic structure of a story follows four parts:

  • A problem appears
  • The hero seems to successfully solve this problem
  • More problems occur, showing the hero didn’t solve the problem after all
  • The hero takes more action to finally solve the problem and ends with a cliffhanger

In “Star Wars”, an early scene occurs with Luke discovering R2D2 is gone:

  • Problem: R2D2 is gone and Luke will be in trouble if his uncle finds out
  • Solution: Luke goes out looking for R2D2 and finds him
  • Bigger Problem: Sand People attack Luke
  • Cliffhanger: Obi-wan saves Luke. Now we want to know who Obi-wan is.

This “Star Wars” scene serves two purposes. First, it creates an immediate problem for Luke to find R2D2 before he gets in trouble with his uncle for losing a robot. Second, it introduces us to Obi-wan in an indirect way by having Luke chase R2D2.

So think of every scene as performing dual tasks. First, the scene must tell an interesting story of its own such as will Luke find R2D2 in time? Second, the scene must advance the story such as the hunt for R2D2 helps bring Luke closer to Obi-wan.

What too many novices do is that they write a scene solely to advance the story. The way to fix this is to create a mini-story somehow that’s interesting in itself.

In “Pulp Fiction,” the purpose of the scene is to get the hit men to the apartment to retrieve the suitcase. To do this, the two hit men talk about hamburgers and fast food in Europe.

So when writing scenes, make sure you’re clear how your scene advances the plot. Then make that scene interesting by itself. You should be able to hand your scene to anyone to read and it should be interesting by itself.

Make every scene interesting and make every scene advance the plot.

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