Be entertaining. Entertain the hell out of people.

In a previous post: As story tellers, we are entertainers. Respect the audience and be entertaining.
Or, put even more simply: you want to entertain the living hell out of them.

You can’t just spit a story at people, you have to know what they’re going to find entertaining. A lot of writing is honing your sense of how to do that. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Add color to a script. Many scripts rush to exposition, rush to incident, unload plot point after plot point after plot point. They’re constantly advancing, never coloring. Remember, we’re telling a story. You need just enough narrative detail to amuse the imagination. To this end, the “color/advance” improv exercise helps.
  2. Use unity . If you ever have a choice between writing something arbitrary and something that’s unified to what came before, choose the latter. We humans are all about pattern recognition. There’s a theory that humor itself is about the endorphin release that comes from when we recognize a pattern (often in a surprising way). You know how people say, “I see what you did there?” You want people to see what you did there. That’s not to say you can’t be surprising, or even completely random in places, but pure randomness is hard to pull off. If you make a big choice, you’ll generally want there to be some overarching reason for that, even if that reason is only perceptible after the story is finished.
  3. Ground with emotion. We’re suspicious of information. I’d be pleasantly surprised if one person in ten can name their congressperson and both their senators, and that stuff actually matters. Given that, it’s hard to invest ourselves in the minutia of a world that doesn’t matter. But we do, people love the world building of Star Trek, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, etc. This is accomplished by being specific in how it matters to the characters, by using the orienting effect .

There’s no surefire way to please everybody because taste is subjective. But it’s not completely subjective or completely random. It’s useful to analyze why things have a tendency to work so you can better calibrate your taste and your sense of what will make an audience happy (or sad, or satisfied). The better you get at that, they better you get at writing.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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