Creating Multi-Purpose Scenes

Watch a bad movie like “Justice League” and you’ll see a perfect example of a pointless scene. Early in the movie, “Justice League” shows Wonder Woman fighting a bunch of men trying to blow up a building with hostages inside. Wonder Woman naturally defeats these villains and saves the day.

Unfortunately, this scene has absolutely nothing to do with the main story. The villains Wonder Woman fights against have no relation to the villain the Justice League ultimately fights against. The scene exists solely to show how good Wonder Woman is at fighting. Since this scene only exists for one purpose (show Wonder Woman’s fighting skills), the scene wastes time and feels directionless.

Contrast this with an earlier scene form “Justice League” where Batman fights a man and uses this man to help capture a strange flying creature. This scene shows Batman’s skill in fighting (like Wonder Woman’s initial scene) but also by introducing this weird flying creature, the scene also helps introduce the villain. So this scene does more than just show Batman fighting and is a slightly better scene than the Wonder Woman scene.

Now study a good movie and you’ll see that scenes often have multiple purposes. In the opening scene in “Die Hard,” we learn who the hero is (John McClane) and that he’s afraid of flying. This fear will be echoed later with his mentor, Officer Powell, who is afraid to draw his gun after accidentally shooting a kid). This opening scene also tells us that John McClane is a policeman and has a gun, which he will later use to fight the terrorists in the skyscraper. A fellow passenger tells the hero to reduce stress by taking off his shoes and scrunching his toes in the carpet. This foreshadows the hero running around barefoot later. So in this opening scene, the following information gets revealed:

  • John McClane is afraid (echoing Officer Powell’s fear of drawing a gun later)
  • John McClane is a policeman (so he’s tough and knows how to fight)
  • John McClane has a gun on him (so he’s armed to fight the terrorists initially)
  • John McClane learns to reduce stress by taking off his shoes (which will lead him being barefoot)

See how this opening scene tells us so much information while the Wonder Woman scene in “Justice League” tells us absolutely nothing we don’t already know (Wonder Woman is good at fighting)? If a scene exists solely to serve one purpose, chances are good it’s a pointless scene. Scenes need to serve multiple purposes. When a scene can do that, not only does this help move a story along faster, but it also creates a richer, more engaging story at the same time.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”Making-a-Scene-book”]

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