It’s all about conflict. Nobody wants to read (or watch a film about) about how we all get along. It’s in the central core of our being and it threads through our myths and campfire stories all the way back to the caveman. After all, “So I crept around this boulder and speared the Buffalo and killed it,” just doesn’t pack a particular dramatic punch does it? I’m willing to bet that if you look at cave paintings of, “The Hunt.” Off in one corner of the picture is some poor bastard getting gored to death, just to show it wasn’t a walk in the park.
Conflict is not always action either. You can blow up or shoot up a ton of stuff on screen but if it lacks context, it’s wasted energy. Hitchcock knew this. His most memorable scene involved a shower, a knife, a bad wig and a drain. That one scene changed the tenor of his film and moved the story in a completely new direction.
One of my favorite series of scenes in a film is from Fritz Lang’s, “M.” We see the killer buying a little girl a balloon, later we see the child’s mother calling for her in their apartment building and then we cut to the ballon snagged in high tension wires and we know instinctively that the child has been killed. None of the violence has been shown on screen but the conflict is established and horrifying.
In one of my current projects, “Whiskey 42,” the men are on the run from an enemy force which provides the conflict of a hostile environment but the real conflict is between themselves and how they deal with the situation they’re in. Yes, I blow a few things up and bullets are traded back and forth but at it’s core, it comes down to the people living through the toughest of situations.
Which brings me to another point.
Know how specific people speak. Every profession and facet of the human condition has a specialized language. I’ve spent many years talking to people from all different walks of life but more importantly, I’ve also been listening to what they say and how they say it to each other. This is critical to creating believable characters. The rest is of course pure research into the tools of their respective trades. A lot of young writers will delve into areas where their research is light and their knowledge scarce and lets be honest here, Google and Wiki won’t fill in those gaps for you. So what results is anemic prose, light on details and scarce on depth or any conflict because they have no idea where the conflict could possibly come from in the first place.
One of the most basic of mistakes is always having stuff that works. Realistically, a lot of things we take for granted, stop working when they are needed most or are removed by other forces we never considered in the first place. This can be an excellent device when used correctly. Your characters are in control until the world decides otherwise and with spectacular effect.
As it was once said by Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, “No plan survives execution.”
Use that to your advantage when you write your scene.