Read screenplays and you’ll notice one thing. Every scene typically has two things going on at once. If a scene fails to include two stories, then it’s often flat, dull, and ultimately boring.
Think of every great scene and you’ll notice what’s happening. There’s the scene goal itself but there’s almost always setups involving other stories as well.
In the opening scene of “The Invisible Man,” the hero is trying to escape her abusive and domineering boyfriend who happens to be rich and smart. Her goal in the scene is to get away from him. As she’s trying to sneak out of the house without him noticing, she happens to glance over at a strange contraption that she doesn’t understand.
This strange contraption will later turn out to be holding a spare suit for making yourself invisible. While this initial scene is mostly about the hero trying to escape, this seed planted in the middle of the scene sets up the ending where she takes this spare suit and hides it.
In the opening scene of the “Die Hard,” the hero is on a plane landing in Los Angeles. The scene appears to be about a man scared of flying and his fellow passenger trying to calm him down. However the hidden story in this scene is that the hero is on his way to his wife’s corporate Christmas party.
So the secret to writing a scene isn’t just to write a scene, but to include a hidden story within that scene. On the surface, the opening scene in “The Invisible Man” may seem to be about a woman trying to escape, but the hidden story is her discovery of the villain’s spare invisibility suit.
The opening scene in “Die Hard” seems to be about a man afraid of flying, but the hidden story is about his desire to meet his wife at her corporate Christmas party.
When writing a scene, make sure it’s not just about one story, but includes a second story. This second story doesn’t have to be complete, but it needs to lay the foundation for a future scene. This helps keep every scene linked and necessary for other scenes.
If a scene fails to be necessary for another scene, chances are good that scene will need to be deleted.
In “Terminator 2,” there’s a deleted scene where the villain (the liquid metal Terminator) goes into John Connor’s bedroom to discover the location of Sarah Connor. However, that delete scene does nothing but show how the villain discovers Sarah Connor’s location. Since it doesn’t provide a link to a future scene, it wasn’t necessary and got deleted.
Write scenes that link to future scenes. Try to tell two stories at once because that will make a scene interesting and necessary for your overall story.