Every scene must link to another scene. Early scenes need to link to future scenes by foreshadowing. Later scenes need to link to earlier scenes by paying off an earlier foreshadowing set up. If you watch this short clip from “Aladdin,” you’ll immediately notice two foreshadowing links.
First, Jasmine watches the hero arrive and gets disgusted. The hero is trying to impress Jasmine with his display of wealth, but Jasmine already doesn’t care about it, so that sets up tension because the hero’s whole mission is already in jeopardy and he doesn’t even know it.
Second, the villain is actively trying to keep the hero from presenting himself to Jasmine’s father. Although this scene from “Aladdin” seems to be about the hero arriving to impress Jasmine, it really plants two seeds that foreshadow the future where the hero will have to overcome Jasmine’s initial disgust of him and the villain’s initial scheming to stop him from succeeding in winning over Jasmine.
What would happen to any scene that lacks any links to another scene? Then that scene would feel pointless. Every scene has to show us something new that we didn’t know before. Just watch the deleted scenes provided on most DVDs and you’ll see useless scenes that often duplicate information other scenes provide or offer nothing new at all. Because these deleted scenes don’t provide links to other scenes, they’re easily expendable.
Read the screenplays of James Cameron or Quentin Tarantino and you’ll see that they tend to overwrite their stories with lots of unnecessary scenes and backstory that later gets cut. In “Aliens,” James Cameron wrote an entire scene where the little girl’s family first discovers the alien egg that latches on to her father’s face. That’s unnecessary since we already know what the alien face hugger can do. In “Inglorious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino wrote a whole backstory about how the French farm girl got a job working in a movie theater. That scene was completely unnecessary since all we need to know is that she works in a movie theater and not how she got there.
Watch this clip from “Tangled” and even though it’s mostly about pursuing a dream, there’s a tiny moment where Rapunzel’s mother (the villain) briefly appears when she hears all the singing, which leads her towards the tavern. Since her goal is to find Rapunzel, this brief moment plants that seed for the mother getting closer to Rapunzel and confronting her.
Study any good scene and you’ll often find links that set up future scenes with foreshadowing or pay off earlier set ups planted in previous scenes. When the first scene in “Die Hard” has a passenger telling John McClane how to relax by scrunching his toes in the carpet, that sets up the later scene where he has to escape the terrorists bare foot. That bare foot scene further sets up the scene where the villain shoots the glass to cripple John McClane.
Good movies have scenes that link together like parts of a chain. Bad movies toss in scenes that serve no purpose other than to show something mildly interesting like gunfire or cars smashing into each other. Strive to write good scenes that plant seeds of the future or pay off set ups from earlier scenes. The more tightly all your scenes work together, the stronger your overall story will be.