Shatter Each Character’s Expectations in Every Scene

Far too many novices write scenes that simply convey information. This is boring. Audiences (and readers) don’t want exposition. They want something that grabs their interest that also happens to provide exposition without them even knowing it.

One way to make every scene more dynamic is to identify the expectations of every character in every scene and then shatter that expectation. For example, a bad way to write a scene might be to have two people meet in a restaurant and talk.


Here’s a way to spice up the scene. Identify the expectations of each character and then find a way to shatter it.

Suppose a couple is meeting in the restaurant. The man may be excited to have lunch with his wife while his wife wants to tell him she wants a divorce.

Right away, shattering expectations creates conflict and gives each character an immediate goal to make the scene active.

The man may start out trying to make his wife happy because his expectation is that by the end of the lunch meeting, they’ll both go away happy. Then his wife shatters that expectation and says she wants a divorce.

Now the man has to scramble to determine if she’s joking or serious. When he finds out she’s serious, he could get sad or angry.

Meanwhile, the wife’s expectations going into the scene may be that she wants a divorce. Suddenly seeing the man get sad might make her realize she really loves him after all. Now her conflict is does she go through with the divorce or does she take him back?

Of course, this isn’t the only way to write this scene, but by shattering the expectations of the characters, you can see how it creates conflict and makes the scene far more interesting than just vomiting up a bunch of facts to provide exposition.

Pick any scene from your favorite movie and you’ll spot how character expectations get thwarted. In an early scene in “Star Wars,” Luke talks to his uncle about leaving the farm. Ideally, Luke would get his uncle’s approval but his uncle convinces Luke to stay one more season, thereby frustrating Luke’s goal.

On the other hand, Luke’s uncle’s expectation is to have no trouble and then Luke shatters that expectation by asking about leaving the farm.

Thwarting expectations keeps a story moving in unpredictable ways and that’s what keeps audiences watching (or reading) every step of the way.

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