Put the Hero in the Worst Possible Situation

Novice screenwriters are often timid and tame. They write scenes that lack emotional intensity. To be an effective dramatist, you must be a masochist to your heroes. That means making them suffer as much as possible before letting them win out in the end.

When writing any scene, focus on the worst possible situation that could occur, and make that happen. That creates greater conflict and drama.

Think of the opening scene to “Fargo” where Jerry mets two men who he has hired to kidnap his wife. Instead of just meting with the men and talking about the plot, there’s immediate conflict because Jerry is late and the two kidnappers are upset having to wait an extra hour for him to eventually show up.

That immediately creates conflict, defines the characters, and grabs our attention right away. From Jerry’s point of view, what seemed to be a simple meeting has already turned out bad from the beginning.

There’s a simple scene in “Inglorious Basterds” where American soldiers and a British spy are in a bar to meet with a German actress who will help them. So what’s the worst that could happen? There are German soldiers also in the bar and a suspicious German officer who is interfering with the meeting between the British spy and the German actress.

What happens if you strip away the worst possible situation? Then you get a plain, straightforward scene lacking in conflict, action, and interest.

Every scene needs conflict that you can create by simply imagining the worst that could happen. Pick several possible problems and then choose the one that best fits your story’s needs. The more you make your hero struggle, the more dramatic your story will be.

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