Interesting Scenes

MAKING SCENES INTERESTING


Scene Pinnacles

  • Always ask yourself: what is the pinnacle of this scene?

  • So you can pinpoint the "why" this scene is even in the outline.

  • The Pinnacle is the dramatic information you most want to get across in the scene, be it plot, character, or both. 

  • Scenes themselves have 3 acts. The end of the scene is its third act or pinnacle. 

  • So, when you're writing a scene and it lies there stale and lifeless, determine what the pinnacle is. From there, it may be helpful to think and restructure backwards. 

  • Sometimes, you may have placed the pinnacle too early in the scene. Or the scene's pinnacle just isn't as strong or significant as it should be. 

Kill the Chitty Chat

  • Don't waste precious pages on small talk or insignificant dialogue. Cut all the hi's, please, thank you's.

  • Get to the pinnacle of the scene via action or dialogue that directly leads to that pinnacle. 

Touches

  • Touches are Details.

  • (EG. A sheepherder's wife sees an elegant woman dropping her luggage to the hotel porters. She quickly turns back, as if afraid of getting caught. She then notices her reflection in the passenger car's window glass and wistfully straightens a loose strand in her hairdo.) This is a touch that conveys everything about the past and present of her character.

  • (EG. The pedophile from Fallen Angel would twist his large turquoise ring whenever he was pressured or had sexual tension. In the trial, when protesting his innocence, he reaches out to touch his lawyer, who perceptibly shrinks back.) Another touch. 

  • (EG. Charles Foster Kane calling most people by their last names, but the loyal Bernstein, always Mr. Bernstein.) Another touch.

  • Such touches in dialogue and situations are rarely essential to plot, but always essential to good character. 

Adding Third Parties

  • Sometimes in obligatory or boring scenes, you can heighten the drama and interest level by using the third party trick.

  • (EG. To Die For is about a couple who lose their young son to medial malpractice. The scene involves the couple waiting to learn about their son's condition, and then being informed that he has died. This is an obligatory scene that might be boring.)

  • So, the writer heightens the drama and the interest level by using the third party trick. You see, generally, someone else who is in front of such a couple cannot be so on-the-nose with their dialogue. Thus, the dialogue in this scene must contain restrained subtext. 

  • The writer adds a security guard to the scene. Notice how much a third party like him can give to such a scene. (Page 172 - 175)

  • Imagine those scenes without the guard. His authoritative presence contrasted with the anxious and grieving couple brings even more tension to the scene. If not, it would be boring and on-the-nose!

  • Sometimes, you can even bring third, fourth, fifth parties, or even crowds into scenes that are less than compelling. These additions could give you the needed edge, drama, or excitement to push a scene from OK to great. 

Transitions

  • Most of your transitions from one scene to the next scene should be direct cuts, which continue unfolding and escalating the story and character development. 

  • You can use inventive or visually clever transitions, but make sure that they relate to the telling of your story, or at least, serves to lead the audience's emotion towards where it needs to be. 

A Story's Rhythm

  • Writing a script is like someone running a marathon race.

  • You have to calculate how much juice is left in your story, and how much you've already used up. 

  • If you're behind, you have to speed up. If you're ahead, you have to go back and cut. (EG. You're supposed to have the event of the couple breaking up around page 40, but you're already nearing page 60 and you still haven't written it in!)

  • A technique is to have a list of all the significant events, and calculate how long each should take, keeping in mind the structure of your script and how long it can support those scenes. 

  • EG. You have a scene that you say should be 3.5 pages long. But it turns out to be 4.5 pages long, perhaps because something new or exciting has come in. 

  • Usually, the structure will only support 2 to 3 pages per scene, even if you realise that a particular scene has enough interesting material to support 4 or 5 pages. 

  • What you should do is to find other places in the movie to put that dialogue or action. Better to cut out the good stuff, save it, and find another place for it, to keep the pace going. 

  • The thing is, most audiences usually only want to sit and watch a scene that's about 2 minutes long. Then, they want to get on to something else. 

  • So, if you make them sit for 5 or 6 minutes, they might get bored. And there goes their engagement with the movie. 

  • Having a rhythm is very important. Make sure that the movie's STRUCTURE considers that, so that both the movie and audience share the same rhythm.