Friday, 31 July 2009

There's No Tension in My Screenplay

With the sole aim of completing screenplay, the writer may have forgotten about strategic placement of scenes or of creating tension within the story. What may result is a screenplay that seems to reel from one scene to another without any ups or downs and an unceremonious finish.

Dramatic Tension in Screenplays

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Creating tension in film is what screenwriting is all about. This involves a firm understanding of the story arc, which will help with plotting the screenwriting structure. By this, understanding, the screenwriter can control tension by strategic placement of climaxes and lulls within the story.

What is a Scene?

But firstly, what defines a scene? Well a screenplay is comprised of a series of scenes all lined together like a chain. Each begins by a new setting or time. In each scene, something happens between one or more characters, whether this is a series of actions or discourse. In each case, there must be some sort of tension that moves the story forward.

What is the Story Arc?

Simply put, the story arc consists of a set up, the main conflict and the climax. The set up of the story, or introduction, will include a trigger incident that sets the tension in motion. The main conflict of the story consists of a series of climaxes and lulls that leads to the main climax of the story. The climax is the ultimate scene that results in a conclusion. Scenes are used to string together the story arc.

Dramatic Scene Writing

Creating dramatic scenes involves knowing what to cut out as well as what to include. Indeed, editing the first draft of a screenplay often involves cutting. The following tips will help the screenwriter with knowing which scenes to cut:
  • If a scene serves no purpose in the story arc, If it were cut, would the story suffer?
  • If there is insufficient tension, consider piling more tension by magnifying a situation, for example for its humour, embarrassment potential or conflict
  • Combining the purpose of two separate scenes into one will tighten the screenplay and add more depth to a scene.
  • Cutting some of the dialogue will add tension by unspoken feelings. Subtext is often used to add tension for the disparity between action and words
  • Ensure that the characters within each scene contrast sufficiently with one another by motives and personality to create tension
  • But ensure that the action and dialogue rings true of the character. Audiences will feel cheated if a character suddenly acts unconvincingly out of character just to serve a plot twist
  • Each scene must be integral to the plot
  • Avoid too many subplots, or parallel storylines that could take the focus from the main story
Creating Tension with Subtext

Using subtext is a great way of manipulating tension within a screenplay. Subtext is the difference between open behaviour and spoken words to what the characters are truly feeling. The audience may get a hint of this by subtle touches in the screenplay, such as a covert look or a secret that the other characters are unaware of.

Montages in Screenplays

The passing of time and segues can be expressed by a series of events or montages, which consist of a succession of images. On a screenplay, this will consist of short descriptions of events in quick succession, such as character leaving a building or driving to work. Montages dispenses with the need for sluglines (a heading informing of the time of day and location at the opening of each scene.)

More About Screenwriting

The screenwriter must allow lulls between climatic scenes, or the screenplay will have only one gear, which would make the screenplay indigestible. Further matters of screenwriting can be found on my website on how to write screenplays. Character creation and how to write dialogue are explored, as well as other matters of screenwriting which can be used to add tension.

Helpful Articles on Screenwriting

How to write the subplot to a screenplay
What is wrong with my screenplay?
Write your first screenplay

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