Look at any scene and it needs conflict, change, and character development. Conflict pits two sides against each other where one comes out a winner. Change occurs at the end where something at the end is different than the beginning. Character development provides us with more information about the characters in the scene by reinforcing what we already know or by introducing something new about a character that we didn’t know.
First, every scene needs conflict. In “The Little Mermaid,” there’s a scene where Sebastian the crab is trying to convince Ariel that she should give up her dreams about the human world and stay in the sea where it’s safer and better. That’s the entire purpose of the song “Under the Sea.” In the end, Ariel wins and Sebastian loses because Ariel hasn’t changed her mind about the human world.
Second, every scene needs change where life is different at the end than at the beginning. Without change, there’s no reason for the scene to exist. In “Grease,” there’s a scene where the girls are making fun of Sandy for being too pure and good. That’s the purpose of the song “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.” By the end of the scene, Sandy comes out of the bathroom and realizes the other girls have been making fun of her. That changes her relationship between her and the other girls for good.
Character development involves revealing something new or reinforcing what we already know. In the case of the above song from “Grease,” we already know the other girls are wild and loose and we already know that Sandy is a good girl. The above song simply reinforces this information to make sure we understand it.
Ideally, a scene should contain all three items: conflict, change, and character development. To see a scene that lacks all three items, watch this “Reproduction” song from “Grease 2.” This scene lacks any meaningful conflict that advances the story, results in no meaningful change at the end of the scene, and fails to enhance or introduce anything new about any of the main characters. It’s basically an empty scene that exists solely for a song where the main characters mostly stare at everyone else dancing around.
Examine every good movie’s scenes and you’ll find conflict, change, and character development. Study any bad movie and you’ll find plenty of scenes that lack conflict, change and character development. Scenes are the building block of a story so each scene must be interesting and useful to create a good overall story.