Creating Surprise Every 5 Pages, Part 2
- June 13, 2011
- Posted by: HalCroasmun
- Category: Articles
In the first part of this Article series, we discussed different ways to surprise an audience or reader. In this one, we'll work with elevating the quality of the surprise.
Remember, you aren't looking to do a Sixth Sense type of surprise every five pages. That would make your script so manic that no one would be able to finish it.
What you want is to consistently surprise a reader — both in big ways and in small ways. But your surprises should always fit the characters and the concept of the script.
ELEVATING THE SURPRISE
I'm going to use a simple example to show you some ways to improve the quality of the surprise. What is most important here is that you get the structure and steps down.
First, we'll start with the first draft of this scene.
Ron and Susan have a wonderful lunch, then get in an argument and he threatens her with a lawsuit.
From Part 1, you learned to clearly define the setup and the surprise of a scene. In this case, it looks like this:
- Setup: They have their lunch and get in an argument.
- Surprise: He threatens her with a lawsuit.
Pretty tame, isn't it? Not much astonishment there.
The natural thing to do is to go to the surprise and improve it. Let's say we elevate it a bit by having Ron serve Susan with the lawsuit right there.
Now, let's work with the setup. What if Ron has told Susan that he wants to resolve things and would like to have dinner to mend their torn relationship?
- Ron takes Susan to a wonderful dinner to "reconcile their relationship" and at the conclusion, he gives her a gift — a summons.
Notice how we amped up both sides — setup and surprise.
- Setup: A wonderful dinner to reconcile the relationship.
- Surprise: Ron gives her a summons.
So it is better. If we do a good job on the setup and really sell that experience, the summons will be shocking.
Why would you go through all this effort for one scene?
Actually, once you get familiar with the process, you'll do all of this in your mind and it will take only seconds. You'll look at any scene you are going to rewrite and instantly see when the surprise equation is out of whack. If it is, you'll quickly brainstorm both sides and generate a more surprising scene.
Now, we'll change the setup to reveal that Ron has plans from the beginning to serve Susan and it looks like this:
- Ron takes Susan to a wonderful dinner to cover that he is going to hand her a summons…
Then change the surprise and see what happens.
- Ron takes Susan to a wonderful dinner to cover that he is going to hand her a summons, but ends up dining with her pit bull attorney, instead.
- Ron takes Susan to a wonderful dinner to cover that he is going to hand her a summons, but is suddenly mugged by two thugs outside the restaurant — while Susan giggles.
Once you've made your choice, you can write all the action, dialogue, and subtext to increase the feeling of surprise and also to reveal character in the process.
IMPORTANT: Any scene can be made surprising AND still accomplish your purpose for the scene. It is just a matter of using this structure and some focused creativity.
These kind of things are what make producers fall in love with your screenplays and more important, with you as a writer. The more you have in your screenwriting toolbox, the faster you will become a sought after writer. Get a headstart at learning these techniques by taking our Pushing the Envelope Class.