The Domino Theory

A well constructed story works because all the pieces fit together. When studios throw additional writers on a project, each writer tends to pick and choose what to keep and toss out, resulting in a jumbled mess that makes no sense and provides no coherent structure. To create a well crafted story, you need to consider how each part affects the whole.

Take a line of dominos, knock one over, and the falling of one domino hits another until it triggers the whole thing to fall apart. That’s what happens if you yank out part of a story and try to insert a new chunk without considering how it affects the rest of the story.

You can see this in bad movies all the time. Characters appear for no reason and then disappear equally fast, scenes don’t really make sense, dialogue and foreshadowing never completes itself, and we’re left with a jumbled mess of a story that pleases no one.

The main fault is that stories aren’t like building blocks that you can yank out one part and insert another part in without affecting the structure. Instead, stories are like a cake. You just can’t yank out one ingredient from a recipe without affecting the entire result. Every part of a story affects the rest by reinforcing what we’ve seen.

To create a story, you need to look at the big picture first, then focus in on the details. If you focus in on the details first, you could create a great scene that doesn’t support the rest of your story.

In the beginning, something is already happening that gets your story in motion. In “Star Wars,” our first scene is watching Darth Vader’s ship overtaking and boarding Princess Leia’s ship. This opening scene leads us to the next part of the story, which is introducing something new into the hero’s life.

In “Star Wars,” the next domino is when R2D2 and C3PO wind up on the planet and get captured to be sold to Luke’s uncle. Now R2D2 displays the Princess Leia hologram, but R2D2 says he’ll play the rest if Luke takes off the restraining bolt. Doing this gives R2D2 the chance to escape, causing Luke to go after him, which leads to meeting Obiwan-Konobi, meeting Hans Solo, escaping off the planet, getting caught in the Death Star, etc.

Push one domino over and the rest of your story naturally follows. That’s how every good story should feel. Every new scene should feel inevitable in hindsight. After Luke gets trapped on the Death Star and discovers Princess Leia is imprisoned, the next step is to rescue her. After rescuing her, the next step is to get her off the Death Star and escape. After she’s at the rebel base with the Death Star plans, the Death Star comes after the rebels to blow them up for good.

One scene inevitably flows into the next. That’s how a good story works, like falling dominoes.

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

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