Friday, February 23, 2007

The Scene Resume

Do your scenes have a resume? After a failed collaboration attempt last year, I began keeping resumes for my scenes so I could make sure they don't exist solely for my own sentimental reasons. Cutting scenes was the deal killer on what was probably the best high concept story I had ever worked on. My co-writers were all good writers but our project petered out after five months when we couldn't resolve disagreements over scenes.

We writers are a peculiar lot.

Scenes serve many different purposes but rarely (ever?) does any single scene serve only one purpose. Every scene should, at the very least, move the story forward. A resume for one of my scenes looks like this:

SCENE 29 DUMPSTER -- INTERIOR
1. Moves action from front to back of store
2. Realization/decision scene for protag
3. Character overcomes one fear as she confronts another
4. Reveals critical information to protag and investigators
5. Shows emotional reaction of character
6. First hint of protag's vision problems

Okay, so there was a whole lot going on in this scene but it's actually a very short scene (still working on this by the way) and the primary character has no dialogue. She's hiding in a dumpster and learns her mother was just killed in a store robbery.

Compare that to this scene resume:

SCENE 15 DIRTY BATHROOM -- INTERIOR
1. Reveals character

This was a very long and chatty scene in a dirty gas station restroom that basically reveals the character of a little girl and her aunt. It's an utterly hysterical and charming scene that I wanted cut in that uber cool high concept collaboration. A whole scene that does nothing but show character? Well, okay, I caved to keep the peace and the comedy but there were several of these types of scenes and eventually the whole project just fell apart.

Character should be revealed layers at a time throughout every scene and every line of dialogue. I just can't see giving character development its own scene when I have to orchestrate all my story elements into fewer than 120 pages.

Throwing out a favorite scene is heartbreaking. But not cutting it is like leaving an anchor hanging on your story.

Catalyst scenes and the big bang type scenes probably aren't going to be a problem even if their resumes are weak. But do you have establishing scenes, love scenes, flashbacks, or montages? If so, when is the last time you looked at their resumes?

2 comments:

Moviequill said...

I tend to write my scenes out in pencil, then at the bottom I asterisk it and start asking myself the questions: what did you say here? what was revealed? what needed to be revealed? what was the tension? I don't move to the next one until I answer all my questions... I agree with you that we need to examine each on more closely

ECHenry said...

Jim Cirelle turned me on to "beat sheets" I use them to chart the logic of the story. No resumes -- that seams like a little TOO DRY way of looking back at one's writing.

For me it's all about connecting with a charater. And you're definately right, Mary Ann, you want to do that in layers -- so the audience learns more and more about each character as the story progresses.

And, once again, you're so right about getting under 120 pages. No matter what story you're trying to tell you've gotta try to look professional and slide under that bar.

Keep up the great posts!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA