There is something calming and enjoyable about familiarity. Why do you think many chain restaurants are designed in a similar manner? The general public requires a safety net whenever they venture out into the world. While this mindset is natural, and even though it should not be fostered to a huge degree, screenwriters must understand how writing based upon the familiar and common attracts audiences and maintains their attention. When audiences feel safe, even in the subconscious realm, they’re more likely to enjoy your story.
Writing based upon the familiar and common does not mean producing bland and boring scripts. Rather, it’s using everyday scenarios and twisting them to combine familiar and unique elements.
Familiarity in Screenwriting
Writing based upon the familiar is an essential element that many screenwriters (especially comedy writers) fail to capitalize on. The reason? Many feel that writing based upon common and familiar scenarios is not “unique enough” to demand attention from agencies and audiences. With an outcry for original material in the filmmaking world, it’s no surprise this is the outcome; however, to truly engage your audience and provide elements that they can relate to (an essential for any script), screenwriters must strive to create originality within the familiar.
To accomplish this goal, follow these tips that I’ve created throughout my 10+ years of working in the film industry:
Familiarity in Settings
Even if your story is completely original and features very little parallel or familiar scenarios, strive to establish scenes in familiar locations. When you take a location the audience already has an association with and involve actions that are not typically done in this setting, you gain audience attention through the setting and maintain their attention through the originality of the scene. A great example of this screenwriting element is found in Pulp Fiction. During the diner scene with the two main characters, the audience is able to immediately establish relationship with the scene as almost everyone has eaten at a cozy diner. After a lengthy dialogue exchange, the characters are then bamboozled by a robbing couple. Suddenly, the familiarity of this scene is removed as very few people understand the intense emotions associated with being robbed at gunpoint while enjoying their B.L.T.
Even in low-intense moments, screenwriters may attract audience attention through familiarity by creating relatable exchanges. Since our world consists of a myriad of various encounters and personal exchanges, this element really is limitless. The purpose of writing according to this element is deepen the empathy audiences experience throughout the film. In my professional opinion, the most effective way to maintain audience engagement is through empathy.
While they may not be able to empathize with the characters or their actions, especially in horror films and action flicks, audiences can empathize with common encounters or dialogue exchanges. Find these golden moments whenever you can to ensure your story is not only well-received, but also fully absorbed by audiences.