One simple way to make your shows more thrilling.

Thanks to the glorious thing that is cable television, I watched one of my favorite 80s movies over the weekend . . . Wargames . . . starring none other than Nice Work if You Can Get It’s Matthew Broderick.

I loved Wargames when I was a teen. In fact, I loved it so much my mom refused to get me a “Compuserve” account and accompanying modem because she thought I was going to start World War III, just like Matthew.

While I watched Matty and Ally Sheedy try to save the world from global thermonuclear war, I was reminded of one of the simple writing techniques that can instantly take your script from Defcon 1 on the excitement scale to Defcon 5 at least.

What was the secret?

Put sh$t in front of your hero to make it harder for him to complete his journey.

Wargames Example #1: Matt/Ally (let’s just call them “Mally” from now on) only have 15 hours left to find the thought-to-be-deceased Professor Falken and bring him back to Norad. They discover he’s living in Oregon so they set out to knock on his door.

Now here’s where it gets interesting, and 100x more exiting with the addition of two little details.

They put the Professor on an island. Which means they had to take a ferry. And then, the writer brilliantly made them late for the ferry, so they literally had to run and jump on to the boat as it was leaving the dock. Oh, and did I tell you? That ferry happened to be the last one to the island, which means if they didn’t catch it Russia would launch its attack.

See what I mean?

Wargames Example #2: They pick up the Professor and get him back to Norad. But instead of just walking him into the base, the writer started locking down the base just as their jeep arrives, which means, once again they are running and rushing to slip in before . . . well, before the world blows up.

Both of those examples were not character driven, or even plot driven, except for that the fact that they put an extra hurdle (or obstacle) in front of our hero. And don’t we all love watching someone jump over a hurdle . . . and even stumble some times as they approach the finish line?

These kinds of tricks are easier in movies, which are more action driven, whereas shows are more character driven.

But they are not mutually exclusive.

So as you write, think about what else you can literally and figuratively put in your hero’s way, and watch as your audience roots for him even more as he figures out a way around them.

And if you want to read more about this concept, I strongly recommend this book, which provides me with blueprints for all of my shows.

Oh, and Mom, if you’re reading. I’ve had internet access since the day I left the house and was able to buy it on my own, and I haven’t hacked into any government systems.

But I’m still trying. 😉


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  • Debi Coleman says:

    Well, I live in Portland, Oregon and there are only a few islands here I am aware of. One is Sauvie Island, in the middle of a channel in the Columbia River between Portland, and Vancouver, Washington, very easy to reach by bridge, canoe, even swimming. The other is w ithin Crater Lake, and that is uninhabitable.
    Guess the screenwriter’s used ‘poetic licence’ here…This movie is one of my favorite films as well.

  • My corollary to “make it harder” is “make it worse.” Once you’re aware of this technique, you see it everywhere on television. This why your average character, say in Grey’s Anatomy, suffers more than most real human beings on the planet.

    My favorite example of this is from Friends. Ross is about to marry Emily in London. Rachel, his ex,(just in case there’s someone reading this who managed to never watch an episode of Friends)flies to London to tell Ross she still loves him. Some of their friends try to keep Rachel from the wedding, but she gets in anyway. Fortunately, she decides to keep her feelings to herself. All is calm. The wedding proceeds as planned. Then as the ceremony is winding down, Ross says, ” I take you, Rachel, I mean Emily, as my wife.”

    This, of course, is much worse than if Rachel said something. And much funnier.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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