One simple way to make your shows more thrilling.

Thanks to the glorious thing that is cable television, I watched one of my favorite 80s movies over the weekend . . . Wargames . . . starring none other than Nice Work if You Can Get It’s Matthew Broderick.

I loved Wargames when I was a teen. In fact, I loved it so much my mom refused to get me a “Compuserve” account and accompanying modem because she thought I was going to start World War III, just like Matthew.

While I watched Matty and Ally Sheedy try to save the world from global thermonuclear war, I was reminded of one of the simple writing techniques that can instantly take your script from Defcon 1 on the excitement scale to Defcon 5 at least.

What was the secret?

Put sh$t in front of your hero to make it harder for him to complete his journey.

Wargames Example #1: Matt/Ally (let’s just call them “Mally” from now on) only have 15 hours left to find the thought-to-be-deceased Professor Falken and bring him back to Norad. They discover he’s living in Oregon so they set out to knock on his door.

Now here’s where it gets interesting, and 100x more exiting with the addition of two little details.

They put the Professor on an island. Which means they had to take a ferry. And then, the writer brilliantly made them late for the ferry, so they literally had to run and jump on to the boat as it was leaving the dock. Oh, and did I tell you? That ferry happened to be the last one to the island, which means if they didn’t catch it Russia would launch its attack.

See what I mean?

Wargames Example #2: They pick up the Professor and get him back to Norad. But instead of just walking him into the base, the writer started locking down the base just as their jeep arrives, which means, once again they are running and rushing to slip in before . . . well, before the world blows up.

Both of those examples were not character driven, or even plot driven, except for that the fact that they put an extra hurdle (or obstacle) in front of our hero. And don’t we all love watching someone jump over a hurdle . . . and even stumble some times as they approach the finish line?

These kinds of tricks are easier in movies, which are more action driven, whereas shows are more character driven.

But they are not mutually exclusive.

So as you write, think about what else you can literally and figuratively put in your hero’s way, and watch as your audience roots for him even more as he figures out a way around them.

And if you want to read more about this concept, I strongly recommend this book, which provides me with blueprints for all of my shows.

Oh, and Mom, if you’re reading. I’ve had internet access since the day I left the house and was able to buy it on my own, and I haven’t hacked into any government systems.

But I’m still trying. 😉


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.