This week's Answer:
most important element of a screenplay (and, without it, a
screenplay will not work) is tension. Tension is
required for us to connect to a story or we might as well
just be reading the newspaper. (And, if you notice
even in newspapers, articles are written to grab the
attention of readers, to create tension.) Once that
tension has been established, in a sense, the author has
us because, once we feel that tension, we want to release
it and will follow the story until we have that
release. The truth is that, though it's important to
relate to the hero and his plight, what we're really
seeking is release from an over-arcing tension that is set
up at the beginning of the story, a tension that is not
resolved until the end of that story. True, there
are many smaller tension spots that often come under
several names: inciting incident, end of first act,
midpoint (middle of second act), end of second act, twist,
reversal, etc., but, basically, they either resolve a
tension or start a new one. And speaking even more
microcosmically (or "microscriptually," as it
were), there is some form of tension in all well-written
scenes, along with a resolution of that tension. The
next time you watch a movie, watch yourself throughout and
notice how you become tense one way or another as you
become involved in it. This applies to all genres,
including romances, even comedies. In fact, comedy
is based on the "preparation, pause, and punch"
pattern. The preparation leads up to a pause, which
is the tension point, and the punch is the release of that
tension. A well-written sitcom, for example is a
constant stream of "tension/release tension"
beats. This is an extremely important aspect to
master as a screenwriter and it will behoove you immensely
to be aware of the "tension/release tension"
paradigm as you construct your storylines and
scenes. But, even more importantly,...
get too tense about it.