There are a small handful of screenwriters who can make a stuffy office feel like a war room, or an Ikea-clad living room sing with the romantic possibilities befitting an evening on the French coast. Yes—a bathroom, or a boardroom, or the back seat of a car CAN be the places where drama happens, and the perfect settings for intrigue and love. But honestly? Most of the time these locations are just… Dull. I don’t know how else to say it: One scene set in the wood-paneled police commissioner’s office is A-OK. Two scenes set in the police commissioner’s office is acceptable, but uninspired. Three scenes set in the police commissioners office exposes a lack of creativity, and will begin to drain your script’s momentum and energy.
It’s a simple trick, but an absolute STANDARD for screenwriters: Keep you story moving. Physically. Instead of sticking them in the office, set a scene where your characters are LEAVING work at the end of the day and walk down a sidewalk to flag a cab. Instead of dinner in the dining room, how about having the big break-up scene play out at a neighbor’s back yard party? And the next time your romance-bound apartment dwellers cross paths, maybe it should be at a health food shop or during a marathon—rather than another predictable crossing-of-the-paths in the front lobby!
The bottom line is to avoid repeating locations unless they are absolutely intrinsic to the telling of your story. Is this a little superficial and surface-y? You betcha. But sometimes simple tricks work—and this one will pay back serious dividends. Particularly for those of you writing ‘independent’ movies, or low-cost character-driven films, your instinct may be to keep it simple and add JUST ONE MORE SCENE played out on the living-room couch. DON’T! Please, please don’t. Be creative. Make your characters MOVE. Down the sidewalk, to a coffee shop—wherever. Changing locations is the easiest way to add energy to a script, so take advantage of this trick—even if you’re cutting corners elsewhere.
Another (and related) method for keeping your scenes interesting and your script skipping along is to make sure your characters always have BUSINESS. “Business” is a term we over-use in the industry for describing a character’s ACTIONS. Essentially—give your characters something to PHYSICALLY DO at the same time they are TALKING, and your scenes will immediately begin to feel more layered, dynamic and realistic. Plus—your actors will be grateful. I’m not saying to describe every little detail (read: Description: LESS is way, way (way) MORE), but if your characters ARE stuck in an office, try having one of them fiddling with the broken air-conditioner during the conversation—or the other one subtlety kicking the boss’ dog off of his leg throughout his entire promotion. Again—this is just an easy trick to add energy and honesty to a scene. But it’s a simple trick that WORKS.