Do what producer Larry Gordon told me:
Create an argument.
Get your characters screaming at each other.
That ought to put some heat into the scene.
For example, you’ve got a scene with a lot of exposition in it.
Exposition scenes are notorious for being hard to handle because…
Well, you’ve got a lot of exposition to deal with.
And since exposition is largely facts and information…
And facts and information are largely devoid of anything resembling excitement…
You’re pretty much looking at the cause of a flat scene.
INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
Sandra and Brad lying in bed. He sighs. She ignores. He sighs. Louder. Finally —
I don’t want to go to your father’s this weekend.
I know it’s his 70th birthday and… and I know your whole family will be there and all, but…
Brad flips off his bedside lamp. Buries his head in the pillows. This time, Sandra sighs.
Okay, the scene did get out some exposition: Sandra’s father’s 70th birthday is coming up. There’s going to be a party. Her family will be there. And Brad doesn’t want to go. But it’s not terribly entertaining, indeed, it’s basically a flat scene. Now what if we created an argument?
INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
Sandra in bed. Brad stalks in from the bathroom, brushing his teeth furiously —
I am not going to your father’s this weekend!
The hell you aren’t! It’s his 70th birthday! The whole family will be there!
I don’t care if the freaking Pope is there…
(jabbing toothbrush at her)
I’m… not… going!
Care to give me an explanation or are you just going to be a big baby about it!
You want an explanation? I’ll give you an explanation.
Brad gets right in her face.
The last time we visited your father… he propositioned me.
He fondled my privates–
–and told me I had a great ass!
Sandra flings a book at Brad.
Liar! Liar! Liar!
Why would I lie about something like that?
Because you’re jealous!
Jealous of what?
Jealous of how successful my father is!
Yeah, a successful fondler!
Another book zings toward Brad who ducks just in time.
All right, not the greatest scene ever written. And why the idea that Sandra’s father propositioned Brad popped into my head, I don’t know — perhaps I’d better start up with therapy again! But see how different the second scene feels? In fact, you could even throw in more exposition if you wanted:
I don’t care that your father is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I don’t care that he’s met the President. Or invented the Hula Hoop. That he once dated Zsa Zsa Gabor or played in the Yankee’s minor league system. All I care about is keeping his creepy hands off my 100% Grade A certified heterosexual body!
Another book. Bam! Nails him in the dome.
So the next time you’ve got a flat scene, especially one with a lot of exposition…
Try creating an argument between the characters.
Give them something to shout about.
As Larry Gordon put it, “No one will care if it’s exposition if the characters are screaming at each other.”
This has been another edition of Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work.