The Curse of Isolated Scenes

Watch a good movie and notice how every scene supports other scenes. In the beginning of “Star Wars,” Darth Vader is trying to capture Princess Leia’s starship. The action in this scene directly leads into the ending where Darth Vader finally finds the location of the rebel base and the rebels finally get the stolen plans of the Death Star. The beginning scene in “Star Wars” introduces a goal for the villain and the ending scene directly reflects the pursuit of a goal in this beginning scene.

Now look at a bad movie like “The Equalizer 2.” The beginning of this movie shows the hero trying to recover a girl taken by her father to Turkey. The hero finds the man responsible and proceeds to kill him and all his well-armed bodyguards. Once this scene is over, it has no relevance to any other part of the story. That makes this scene utterly pointless except to show that the hero is good at fighting.

Later in “The Equalizer 2,” the hero works as a Lyft driver and picks up a drugged up woman. He takes her to the hospital and returns to the men who drugged her up and abandoned her. The hero fights these men and beats them up, but once again, this scene has absolutely no relevance to any other scene in the story. Take this scene and the beginning scene out and no part of the story suffers in the least.

Now if you take out the beginning scene of “Star Wars,” the ending doesn’t make sense. That’s how every scene should work. If you take it out, the rest of your story won’t make sense. In “The Equalizer 2,” two major scenes do nothing but show that the hero is good at fighting and that’s it. While entertaining to watch, it’s ultimately boring and meaningless.

So the key to writing a good scene is to first ask yourself if you take the scene out, will it affect the rest of your story? If not, then the scene can and should be cut. Second, ask yourself if a scene can be cut, what purpose does it serve and how can you show this purpose in another scene?

For example, the opening scene in “Star Wars” not only reveals Darth Vader’s goal of finding the rebel base, but also Princess Leia’s goal of getting the stolen Death Star plans to the rebel base. Scenes should serve multiple purposes while connecting to other scenes in your story. If a scene doesn’t serve multiple purposes, then it’s simply taking up time and should be cut.

Watch bonus scenes on DVDs to see how certain scenes were deleted from the final movie. In almost all cases, the deleted scenes didn’t add anything new, showed information we already knew, or didn’t provide anything useful to the rest of the story.

Ideally, scenes must work together and serve multiple purposes. When  scene does that, it will be nearly impossible to delete it without destroying the rest of your story.

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

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