Monday, February 25, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 260 - The Weight of a Scene

It all comes down to one scene. The big reveal. The climax. The inciting incident. The heart-wrenching death of the protagonist's love. We've all written, giddy for the scene we know will sell our scripts and win us our Oscars. Anything can happen in a scene, and any scene has the potential to make - or break - a movie. 

Any scene can be a bull to write.

For me, that scene this week has come within the first 15 pages of the script and is charged with no small feat: it has to establish the protagonist, his goals, and his fears. In short, it has to prep him (and therefore, us) for his entire story arc. I know it might seem silly to boil such an important task down to one scene, but the anatomy of the first act of this new script is a little atypical. Many sci-fi scripts start off with a normal world, before the foreign/unknown/extraterrestrial/fictional invades Earth and kicks things into drive. That's no different with the collaboration I'm working on. However, this script also opens with a five-page prologue. The inciting incident still has to happen around page ten and is shortly followed by the aforementioned invasion, which turns normal on its head. In the script, that happens around page 13.

Page thirteen. With the first five pages setting future events up in a way that offer very little introduction of the protagonist. So, I'm down to eight pages to establish my protagonist, his world, his friends, and the current "normal" before all goes awry on page thirteen. It's a Sisyphean feat, especially when you consider that, in this particular scene, his character is being established mainly through dialogue with a confidante. Dialogue, as I'm sure you've experienced, can be a lot of fun or incredibly sticky. You don't want to be too on the nose. My protagonist isn't going to say, "this is my opinion of myself, and these are all the skeletons in my closet that are going to hold me back, which I need to overcome to grow as a person over the coming experience." But, of course, that's exactly what the subtext has to be, and it has to be subtle enough that it sounds natural, but not so esoteric that audiences won't follow it.

The dialogue has to be crisp, revealing, and deep. And right now, I have a three pages scene set up in which I can make it happen. The whole rest of the script will follow from there - and we have it, ready for this scene to be slotted in and the following dialogue tweaked to match - but the script can't go to our producer or representatives until this one scene is reworked. One little scene. What a bear.