Writing an unpredictable script makes for a compelling one. Compelling scripts are profitable, and most importantly, they entertain and engage our audiences, the folks we write for.
If an audience can’t predict what will happen in a movie or tv show, they will almost always continue to watch. An unpredictable story compels audiences to watch to the final minutes. But if we can guess what will happen in your script, we will lose interest and pick up the remote.
How do you keep your audience in the dark, anxious to see what’s next? Here are four ways to help your stories take turns nobody will figure out.
The Open Page
Many writers cannot write without an outline, and they won’t start their scripts without knowing everything that happens, especially their endings. You don’t want to write yourself into a corner and waste a bunch of time, right? But the cost of planning your story is planning what you will write.
When writing dramatic action, we access our own individual emotional histories and memories of life we have experienced and witnessed in real time. We are present within the moment of our characters and what they do or say. It’s a different experience than the plan you made.
In short, we plan with our heads and write with our hearts.
If we don’t know what’s going to happen next, neither will the audience. Writing with an outline often telegraphs what’s next. Staring at a white page and making it up produces story less likely to predict.
Strike a healthy balance between what you plan to write and what happens in the creative moment, allowing for a reasonable outline and a wide berth for imagination.
Everything You’ve Done and Said
We can’t predict what will happen in life, and the lives we have lived are our own singular experiences, in many ways unique and separate from others. How can we write from our personal space? I find it very challenging to intimately connect with the story of my script, as I don’t want to feel any unnecessary emotions! It can be quite stressful. 🙂
But ultimately, this is what makes our work stand apart from others—–our own lives. If we approach each choice a character makes, each event which follows that choice, how we might meet the conflict our protagonist faces, and how we might feel when they fail, we can deliver a special perspective. Your own personal vantage point on the external and internal through-lines of your narrative will be refreshing to audiences, providing a better opportunity to identify on a deeper level.
Always place your heart into every detail of your story to better create moments your audience will find originally developed and unexpected.
The Way Things Go
Writers often succumb to completely unrealistic choices in their stories simply because they cannot devise something credible. It’s difficult to stay within the reasonable bounds of plausibility. This leaves the story with events that “only happen in the movies.” They not only happen in the movies, they’re also very predictable to an audience which has seen it all before.
A commitment to the logic of what takes place on this planet can help us make fresh choices. Always stay within reason. This creative boundary will often feel excruciating, but if you adhere to reality when telling a story, you will often make choices no one would have expected.
Your Line in the Sand
The academy award goes to best original screenplay, and this idea of seeing something new is very important to all of us. We look for new stories to better understand life’s challenges and find meaning in the struggles we face. Original work reaffirms our universal values in a powerful way, and this is what drives people to share stories.
Writers must not cheat their own scripts. We need to recognize when we make story choices based on other movies or tv shows we have seen in the past. We have to spot the implausible and hold out until a better solution arrives. It’s easy to let go of these standards, and write stories with plots and endings people can predict. But if we want to reach our audiences, and develop a professional career along the way, we need to write new work, not only for the people who will love us for it, but most importantly for ourselves.
This is a responsibility we all have the opportunity to embrace, for when we have done the hard work to actually write the unexpected story, we have somewhat left ourselves, creating something so good, we will wonder how we got there, and for me, that’s the best it gets.
Submit your feature, pilot, or short script now to receive written analysis.