A writer I work with as a consultant recently shared a phrase with me that came from her friend Craig Hammill (thanks, Craig!), which perfectly encapsulates a point that I often make with writers: “Don’t withhold; reveal, and complicate.”
What that means is this: withholding information — especially information about your main character and what they think, feel, want, plan, and are trying to achieve — tends to distance readers and audiences from your material, rather than drawing them in.
It’s a very common issue I come across in scripts, especially ones that are saving some sort of big reveal or twist for late in the movie.
The problem with this is that when readers don’t really understand what’s driving your main character, they have a very hard time connecting with them, or engaging with your story — and they will tend to read from a detached distance (which you don’t want!), rather than as an emotionally engaged participant in what is going on (which you do want!).
As I said in another post about the importance of a subjective main character point-of-view in screenplays, perhaps the most important task for all writers is to first make the audience care — and “whether I care” is the main thing I am noticing as I read a script (just as we all are doing when we watch a movie).
Or you could say more specifically that we’re asking (often subconsciously), “Am I emotionally engaging with this character, invested in their problem and goal, entertained by the process of them pursuing it, and wanting to see how it turns out?”
I believe that for us to achieve this primary, essential goal — and to sustain that caring throughout a story — we need to go much further than writers often do to make their main character’s thoughts, feelings, desires, plans and scene-by-scene motivations crystal clear at all times.