But today we’re going to show you how to defeat flat writing once and for all...
What Do You Mean By Flat?
It’s like hearing that your work is “missing that certain something.” Thanks. But could you be a little more specific?
First… The Good News.
If your writing is flat or ‘missing that certain something,’ you can be sure that there’s a lot that you’ve done right.
Your reader isn’t getting tripped up over your plot. They would have mentioned that. The script isn’t poorly written or formatted. That gets mentioned too.
What we find is that flat writing is almost always an indicator of a lack of CONFLICT.
Once you up the conflict in your scenes, everything else will come to life. Characters will shine. Your theme will become clear. All the invisible indicators of flat writing will begin to wash away.
How Conflict Works
Here's one great way to up the conflict: In flat scenes, trying having one character convince another character of something. The resulting argument will often lift the scene out of the muck.
We call this the “Convince Me Covenant.” Commit it to memory and it will soon become your go to technique for saving sagging scenes.
Now that’s not to say there always has to be a HUGE argument happening on screen, or any argument at all (movies are after all a visual medium).
Argument is just one way to capture and demonstrate conflict, which is at the heart of fixing flat writing. And if you're going to have any sort of decision being made through dialogue, you'll often find that an argument over that decision will unlock the scene in a whole new way.
When two people are arguing, the audience is naturally engaged. It almost doesn’t even matter what they’re arguing about.
You have no reason to care who wins that argument. But the people arguing do. And their commitment to the argument brings you right into their world. You feel the stakes, even though they don't involve you at all.
Reality TV subsists almost entirely on this idea alone. Tons of meaningless arguments that are interesting for no other reason than the people arguing seem to care.
Spike Lee takes all this to a new level. Check out the following clip from “Do The Right Thing.”
Then Buggin’ Out approaches and engages Spike in another argument.
“You da man.”
“No you da man.”
And I’m still hooked.
Finally, the scene concludes with an argument over Buggin Out’s scuffed sneakers. And everyone’s arguing. All the way through.
Spike Lee uses these simple arguments to explore all of the themes of violence and race in the movie, and even manages to foreshadow the ending at the same time.
But if the conflict wasn't there, no one would be watching.
By they way, Buggin Out? That “You da man” guy? The one in yellow? I bet you didn’t realize who he was…
Here's How to Use the "Convince Me Covenant" to Improve Your Screenwriting
2) Comb through the script you’re writing now. Add conflict whenever possible. This can come in the form of an argument, or more obstacles in a chase scene, what have you. Maximize conflict for optimal results.
3) Plan ahead. For future scripts, think about where you’re going to get conflict from. If you have characters that are juxtaposed in some way, you’ll be set up for success.
4) Where else have you seen this technique used successfully? How about not so successfully? Comment below.