Too many writers think scenes should give information to the audience. This winds up creating “information dumps” where scenes exist for no other purpose than to tell the audience what’s going on. In the old days of stage plays, actors (often portraying a maid and a butler) would appear on stage, talk to each other solely to give information to the audience, and then never be seen again.
This is clumsy storytelling. Don’t do that.
What ever scene really needs to do is force the hero to confront their greatest fear. In “Godzilla: Minus One,” you would think the story would revolve around defeating Godzilla, but the real story is about a failed kamikaze pilot who survived World War Two and now feels guilty for living while his actions led to many others dying.
So every scene this hero faces forces him to deal with facing his fears that he was a coward who faked a mechanical failure so he wouldn’t die in a pointless kamikaze attack.
First he fails to attack Godzilla, which leads to an entire garrison getting wiped out. Even though his inaction wouldn’t have made a difference, he still feels guilty for surviving when the other soldiers did not.
Second, he returns home to find his parents dead and a neighbor yelling at him for being a coward since he survived the war.
Third, he runs into a woman who has saved a baby and allows this woman and the baby to live in his home. This forces him to care for a child and a woman who he gradually starts to love.
Fourth, when Godzilla attacks, ex-soldiers who survived World War Two all band together to attack and defeat Godzilla. All of these soldiers feel guilt like the hero at surviving, but by protecting Japan from Godzilla, they finally feel they’re fighting for a just and right cause.
Fifth, the hero decides to crash his fighter plane into Godzilla’s mouth to kill him. This forces him to finally return to his original kamikaze mission and kill himself to protect others.
Notice the story isn’t about Godzilla at all but about one man constantly facing the ghosts of his past and learning to face and confront those fears so he can live a happier life in the present. That’s basically the formula for every great story.
To see this principle of forcing a hero to face their greatest fear, watch this short film called “The Other Morgan,” which is about a young woman who discovers her father had two families and he named both of his daughters Morgan.
The hero seems like a loser working as an exterminator while the other daughter named Morgan comes from a successful family and works as a veterinarian, which the hero wanted to pursue as well but couldn’t pass the classes.
In every scene in “The Other Morgan,” the hero is constantly reminded of what a loser and failure she is. She meets a former classmate who is now a famous celebrity, and this makes the hero feel inferior. Then the hero meets the other daughter who is living the life that she wanted for herself.
Stories aren’t just about conflict but about forcing the hero to face their greatest fears and weakness over and over again from different points of view. Every antagonist, every setting, every action works against the hero to force them to confront their greatest fears so they can resolve them.
That’s how you write a great story. It’s all about a hero facing their greatest fears time and time again until they either give up or resolve it for good. Once you understand this crucial principle of storytelling, you should never write another meaningless, directionless scene again.