No video today! Doing things a little differently. I have come to accept sometimes I just get camera fatigue. And that’s okay. Because the great thing about working across a wide-variety of mediums… means I can still talk to you even when I don’t want to be in front of a camera.
Oh kindred, isn’t technology awesome?
So. Scene-transitions. This is something I was asked to talk about–how do you decide what to write about, when a scene ends, what you skip over and cover in exposition in passing.
This took me a while to ponder because for me this has been a very gut-based thing and I wasn’t entirely sure how to explain it.
I think I’ve an analogy and I am hoping this will work for you.
But first, let’s talk about blocking out the scene on a very VERY basic level. What HAS to happen in this scene in order for the story to go forward? What does each character want from the other? Keep that in mind as you outline how Character A will approach B in order to get what they want. What does Character B think about this approach? What do they say/how do they respond? Bear in mind very few people say exactly what they’re thinking–and I don’t mean to say they speak falsely. But if your boss came to you with an insane and idiotic request, you very likely wouldn’t voice it that way. Your relationship does not allow for that kind of harsh blunt talk.
So you have to also keep in mind how these people relate to each other. As you go back and forth in this conversation, working through objectives, trying to figure out the best path for them to take for your scene objective to be reached.
For me, the scene almost always finishes when that objective is reached. I tend to be very minimalist when it comes to between character interactions. You want to really consider if this thing serves the story. Does it feel slow? Does it push us forward? Is it something that could just be as easily mentioned by a character in the NEXT scene or one after that?
For the most part no major event should ever happen ‘off stage’ with the exception of something chosen VERY VERY deliberately.
I’m going to use Hamlet as an example here because whatever your opinion of Shakespeare is, he knew his shit. Hamlet is a rather bloody play. So many people die. But Ophelia’s death is one that happens off-stage and is instead recounted to us by Gertrude in EXCRUCIATING detail. Why?
Because we’re being told two things in that moment (depending how you decide to interpret the text, but bear with me). The first is that Ophelia did in fact kill herself, and the second is that Gertrude has chosen to lie for her so that the poor girl can be buried in consecrated ground. Why? Because Gertrude feels responsible and guilty for Ophelia’s state of mind. It was her son that killed Ophelia’s father, her son that Ophelia had fallen in love with and been rejected violently by, her son that she angered by marrying his father’s uncle.
So if you’re going to have something like a major character’s demise happen in exposition–you need to have a very deliberate reason for it.
Which brings back me to my analogy. Think of hacky sack. Or, something which I frankly find more relatable–don’t let object X touch the floor. We’ve all played this at some point in our childhood, I’m willing to bet. Whether that object was a balloon, whether it was a ball, whether it was an organized game of say volley ball which is basically a professional version of this concept, or a goof with friends, or just trying to amuse yourself while bored. There is an energy in the room when you’re focused on something like this. You can feel it in your chest. And when that object finally DOES hit the ground, you can feel that energy significantly drop.
That’s when you change a scene.
I’m completely serious. Imagine the conversation of your scene, the action, the driving force, that is the ball in the air. Go back and forth with your characters and their objectives until you feel that ball drop. 9/10 that’s when you move on to the next scene. Television shows–comedies especially have this down to a rhythmic art. So much you can almost hear that final ball ‘whoomp’ as it drops to accentuate the end of the scene.
The exception here (because there are always exceptions) is creating awkward tension. When characters can feel that ball drop… but the scene keeps going. This can create a fantastic sense of tension.
For instance if you had three characters talking, and C brings up something huge only A was supposed to know.
Ball drop. Everyone pauses. Conversation ceases. If this was a television show, this could be the moment where we fade to black of “To be continued.”
But it doesn’t.
Because those three are still stuck in the room together. One may quickly dismiss themselves, another may stop it, but the energy has dropped and shifted.
That shift is imperative. Because it still creates a driving force. If you feel your scene has stalled and it’s not really going anywhere, go back and read. Where did it get off track? Do you need to change a new path? Or did it just need to end sooner?
Trust your gut. Read it aloud. It helps more than you could imagine.
We’ll talk more about dialogue tomorrow.