How to keep the viewers hooked - Dramatic Question
Screenwriters Beginners,  Screenwriting Basics,  Screenwriting Tips

How to Grab the Viewers Attention – The Dramatic Question

No matter what you write in your screenplay or how you write it, there is not a single screenwriter who doesn’t care to dazzle the viewers of their film and keep them interested for the entire movie. How do you hook your film viewers attention for the entire movie? One of the most important tools to do that is the Dramatic Question!

A lot of things are said to hook the viewers, such as the very first scene of the film, the inciting incident and/or the first plot point are among the things that a screenwriter pay extra attention, trying to make them alluring, magnificent, extraordinary… or at least interesting enough to hook the viewers.

But all of the above are in the first Act of the film. What happens when this passes? What happens next?

That’s where the dramatic question gets in. The dramatic question is the essence of your story. Of course, all screenwriters know their story. In fact, it is so obvious, that many aspiring screenwriters tend to forget it. I mean, they know what they want to say, they know how their story will end, but quite often they forget to make the viewer wonder about what would the ending be.

That’s why in every film, there is, or there should be, a dramatic question. A question that is been raised at the beginning of the story but it will be answered at the end of the story.

David Trottier says in his book «The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script» that

“A good Catalyst and/or Big Event, besides giving the central character a new problem or desire, will often reveal something of the main conflict or story premise. It may raise the central dramatic question (or obligatory question) for that film.”

How do you find the dramatic question that the film raises?

Go and check at the end of the film what your protagonist will eventually do. If you haven’t, find out what’s going to be your ending. What does your main character do? She kills the villain or he decides to go all the way with his dream job or he survives from a deserted island. Think of the ending as some kind of an answer and then… try to find the question behind it. Is she going to win the bad guy? Will he quit his dream or not? Will he survive and return home? That’s the dramatic question.

As screenwriters we “ask” the central dramatic question somewhere in the first Act, and thanks to this question the viewers are hooked to watch the film till the end, because they want to see how it will be answered.

Somewhere in the first act we have to show that our protagonist is marooned on a desolate island. So, the viewers get hooked with this underlying question “Will he survive and return home, or not?” and they watch the entire film until the moment they get the answer to this question. And this answer is always at the third Act.



Such central dramatic questions are:

  • Will she be able to interpret the black swan? (The black swan)
  • Is he going to return to the future? (Back to the future)
  • Will Kevin survive all alone at home? (Home alone)

I know it seems simple and obvious and even self-evident, but don’t underestimate the power of underlying the dramatic question of a film at the right moment.

If you want some more examples, you can watch the new episode by Scriptwriting Tips!


  • Jafar

    Somewher you said “I know it seems simple and obvious and even self-evident,.. ”
    Well, it is not! not to me at least.
    It might seems obvoius to you, but for many , it is an aha! – Otherwise they would not be here at the fist place.
    Please don’t feel what you know is so obvoius, that way you might end up not writing much of your great ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *