Watch a bad movie and what happens? Nothing important seems to happen and your mind starts to wander. One reason why nothing important seems to happen is because the characters aren’t striving for a goal.
A complete movie is deceptive, but when you examine each part, you’ll see that a movie consists of lots of mini-goals along the way. First, there’s the big goal of the hero and villain. Next, there are all the little milestones along the way that the hero and villain achieve to get to their big goal.
In “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” the hero is a detective who is hired to spy on Roger Rabbit’s wife. This sets off a domino-like effect because his first goal is to find Jessica Rabbit. Then his next goal is to take pictures of her in a compromising position. The pursuit of these mini-goals keeps the story moving so we never get bored or confused wondering what’s happening.
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis shows up at the Los Angeles airport and his goal is to get to his wife’s Christmas party. Once he gets there, his next goal is to patch up their relationship. Because Bruce Willis has mini-goals, his actions don’t seem meaningless because we know where he’s going at all times, which also helps create suspense and tension.
If we know Bruce Willis is going to try to patch up his relationship with his wife, we want to know if he’ll succeed or not. If we know Bruce Willis is on his way to his wife’s Christmas party, we don’t mind plowing through the exposition of the beginning since we’re waiting to see what happens next.
It’s when a story doesn’t give the audience a clue where the heroes are heading that everything suddenly seems meaningless and slows the story to a crawl.
Every scene has to move the story forward. If the story doesn’t keep moving forward, it slows the forward momentum of the story and ultimately bores the audience.
On almost every DVD, you can watch deleted scenes that were cut from the final movie. In most cases, these deleted scenes simply slowed the story down and did nothing to help the story along.
In “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” there’s a short scene where the detective gets caught spying on Jessica Rabbit and he’s taken to Toon Town where he gets a pig head placed over his real head. While bizarre, this scene does nothing to move the story forward and thus it was wisely deleted from the final film.
The one criteria for anything in your story is if it moves the story forward and gets your characters closer to a goal. If it doesn’t, then cut that scene out. You don’t have time to let your characters wander aimlessly. Think of your story like a roller coaster ride that takes your audience for a thrill. The best roller coasters keep rising, falling, dropping, and turning. The worst roller coasters have long periods of dull spots where nothing exciting is happening.
You don’t want your story to be like one of those boring roller coasters, so make sure you eliminate the dead spots and keep your story lean and packed with action.