4 Ways For Screenwriters To Keep Their Audience Watching


Screenwriters really have their work cut out for them. This is the cardinal rule of screenwriting.

Hook Your Audience

The key function of drama is to exploit your audience’s curiosity and making them care enough to want to know what happens next.

DECLARING THE FUTURE

This is a headline which briefly transports the audience to a point in the future. Public speakers use this technique, when they mention an upcoming event and revert back to the main discussion.

It’s a glimpse into the future allowing the audience to predict how your story unfolds. It can be a flash forward such as a dream sequence of a wedding early in a romantic comedy. It is derived from Ancient Greek theatre when the chorus would declare an impending tragedy. Shakespeare called it “foreshadowing”.

Modern screenwriters can manipulate audience expectation by setting up and reversing an expectation rather than paying it off as expected. Using the previous wedding example, the story could end with the lovers ending up with other partners or never speaking again. If you defy audience expectation, ensure you give them enough clues along the way, or a twist to make the future plausible. Otherwise, they won’t buy the story. It needs to be organic.

TICKING CLOCK

These are sometimes referred to as option and time locks, respectively. By stating the worst case scenario of what will happen if the protagonist doesn’t achieve a goal, tension and subsequent audience interest is raised because an expectation of the story trajectory is set. Examples include, an explosion if the bus slows down in “Speed”, or a dead wife if a ransom isn’t paid in “Ruthless People”.

DANGLING CARROT

This tends to be a declaration of intent, an expression of hope or fear, a warning or prediction. At this point the audience is aware of a dichotomous outcome, but is unsure of which one will eventuate. By keeping the audience guessing, they remain focused on your story.

TENSION

I’ve previously talked about audience and character positions being either inferior or superior. The resulting tension is caused by the misalignment of the audience knowing more than the characters. If the audience is superior, an element of anticipation and expectation is created since the audience wants to know if the character realizes what’s happening, and how. If the audience is inferior, then we manipulate the story to postpone the revelation as long as possible.

In horror films, the element of anticipation is utilized to generate fear, while in comedies, misunderstandings between characters are used to generate laughs.

For all these techniques to work successfully, writers must establish an emotional connection between their characters and audiences. Remember that the biggest killer of scripts is boredom so make your script a PAGE TURNER for the reader.

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