1) Bonus points if your character’s fear is the opposite of his goal – Whatever your character’s goal is, make his fear the opposite of that. Here, Brody’s goal is to keep the people safe. Every step he takes is for the express purpose of keeping everyone safe, and his last option is to kill the shark. Therefore, his fear is that he’s afraid of water. It’s a simple yet effective way to create conflict within your hero’s pursuit.
2) Avoid a perfect marriage / relationship in a Story – Marriages / Relationship are wrought with issues. Something’s always pulling on them, creating a problem that needs to be resolved. These problems usually fester underneath the relationship, un-talked about, creating subtext throughout the characters’ conversations. Here, Brody’s wife wants to leave this town. She wants a better life for them in a nicer place. But he wants to stay. And that grinds on their marriage. Always try and add some sort of issue to your hero’s marriage.
3) Use suspense to drive your story – You need a character goal to drive a story. Get the hero out there and after an objective and he’ll take the story with him. While it means a slower story, you can use suspense to drive your story as well. One way to do this is to link together a series of looming disasters. That’s essentially what drives the first 2 acts of Jaws. True, the characters are trying to find the shark and stop it, but what we’re really waiting for is that next shark kill.
4) Conflict is good. Forced conflict is bad. – Conflict is good, WHEN IT’S NATURAL. Audiences can feel when you’re trying too hard though – when you’re pushing some artificial conflict in there to juice up the story. In the book, Benchley had Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) have an affair with Brody’s wife. Everyone felt that would be too much and nixed it for the screenplay. Good choice. It would have detracted from the story instead of added to it. Any conflict that you add should feel organic and natural. If it feels like you’re adding conflict just to add conflict, you probably shouldn’t do it.
5) URGENCY ALERT – It’s a SIN not to include urgency in a blockbuster (popcorn) film. So in Jaws, our ticking time bomb is the 4th of July weekend. That’s the biggest weekend of the year, the weekend all the tourists show up. And it’s coming soon! Therefore, the film’s urgency comes from Brody needing to find and kill the shark before that weekend (even though he eventually fails to do so).
6) Where’s your Quint ? – Create one extremely memorable character. Someone who stands out because he acts different, talks different, does his own thing – a character who sort lives in his own world as opposed to the one you’ve created. A character like Quint, or Hannibal, or Han Solo, or Lloyd Dobler, or Clementine, or Rod Tidwell or Jack Sparrow or Alonzo Harris. This character is almost always a secondary character. Find him and put everything you have into making him as unique as possible.
7) Prevent your hero’s task (goal) from being easy – Look for ways to make your hero’s job tougher. So here, Brody learns that there’s a shark attack. Okay, simple solution. Close down the beach. The bad writer allows this to happen. The good writer introduces the mayor character, who tells our hero, “You can’t do that. That beach is our income.” Now our hero’s job becomes tougher. He can’t just close down the beach. He has to find and kill a shark.
8) “DON’T GO IN THERE!” – Again, dramatic irony is when we know something the characters do not. Any time you can create a scenario where the audience wants to get up and scream, “No, don’t go there!” Or “Get out of there!” or “Don’t do that!” to warn the characters, you’ve essentially created a great dramatic irony situation. The reason Jaws is inherently dramatic is because it’s driven by dramatic irony. We know the shark is coming to kill these unsuspecting beachgoers, but they have no idea.
9) Always place your problem at the worst possible time it could be – These shark attacks aren’t happening at the tail end of summer with a few scraggly beach-goers getting a last-second tan. It’s happening at THE BUSIEST TIME OF THE YEAR, making it the worst time this problem could’ve happened.
10) If a character is going to tell a story, it better be one hell of a story and about characters’s context / situation – Movies are about characters DOING THINGS. They’re not about characters TALKING ABOUT DOING THINGS. So if you dare to bring your screenplay to a grinding halt while a character tells a story, it better be a very good story ! Quint’s famous monologue here about sitting in shark infested waters for 110 hours while everyone around him was eaten by sharks worked because it was a good story AND it adds drama and emotion to the characters’s situation.
A revised Article from Scriptshadow