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Updated Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

What is the most interesting aspect of a good screenplay?


This week's Answer: 

Attention to Tension

The 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,...

...don't get too tense about it.




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