One key thing that can often throw a reader out of a script is characters acting…well…out of character.
Imagine if you knew someone who was a bouncer at a night club. It’s a Saturday night. 4am. A bunch of drunk revellers stumble out and suddenly there’s a full scale brawl happening in front of your friend’s eyes. But he ignores it. He’s checking Facebook on his phone. Maybe he frowns disapprovingly at them but does nothing to try and stop it. That’s not like him. The function of having him there, his job, is to keep the peace. If he doesn’t, he needs to have a very good reason he’s not intervening or he’s fired.
This same logic applies to the actions that your characters take in your script. Each character has a purpose (or their ‘job’ in the story, if you like). The leader, the mentor, the joker – there are several roles that characters often fulfil in a script. But if their role is to be the comic relief but at the first sign of trouble, they start screaming at everyone, they’re not being consistent with their character. That’s not to say that comedic characters can’t be angry – but they need to be pushed to act out of character. If nothing pushes them and they don’t act as they should, then something’s not working in your script.
Think about the ways that your characters deal with conflict. Perhaps they’re a pretty cool, collected character. Maybe you throw something at them and they shrug it off and get on with it. You throw something else at them, they still get on with it. You then give them one tiny last straw and they snap. It’s tense. The stakes are raised. If you throw them the first thing and they snap, it’s not in keeping with their character. They’re cool and collected. They’ll be able to deal with little bits and pieces that get thrown at them. People do deal with things if they’re a one off. That’s why lots of things happen to characters that make it more and more difficult for them to get on with it. It’s that pressure of circumstance that makes characters really interesting to watch. So make sure you keep the pressure on them.
Remember how you set your characters up. If they’re a musical genius, they’ll know how to play a little bit of every instrument. But if they can’t play the drums, make sure the audience knows that’s their weakness and use that weakness as part of your story. Don’t just bring up the fact that they can’t play the drums randomly. Plant the seed in your story. It doesn’t need to be explicit, you don’t need to have a scene where they discuss that they can’t play the drums. Perhaps they have an intense dislike of percussion in their music. Maybe they get given a snare drum as a birthday present by someone who doesn’t know them very well. Perhaps the antagonist in their story is also a drummer.
Show the gap in their lives and then challenge it. But don’t challenge it before the audience knows there’s a gap there. Otherwise it doesn’t feel right or true to the characters and it brings the audience out of your story. And that’s the last thing you want your audience to do.