Good scenes are comprised of story units involving meaningful dramatic beats.
The general function of any scene, we are reminded, is to provide the reader or audience with essential information in order to follow the story.
The specific purpose of a scene, however, is determined by what sort and how much information to provide. To do so effectively the writer has to understand that scenes are narrative units of the sort referred to on this and other websites as the inciting incident, pinch, turning point, mid-point, climax, resolution, and so on.
The specific purpose of the inciting incident, for example, is to kick-start the story, the first turning point’s function is to turn the story in an unexpected way, and so on.
Identifying scenes in this way highlights their specific function and tells us where they slot into the story. Particular scenes, therefore, allow us to map information in the right place along the story path.
But what about the nuts and bolts of scene construction itself?
“As a general rule good scenes should start late and finish early, meaning that scenes should not contain excess fat. A scene should fulfill its function and end, allowing the next scene to perform its function and end.”
Scenes should also adhere to the genre stylistics of the story. Stylistics inform how the scene delivers its information. The climactic scene in a love story, for example, is very different to the climactic scene in the action genre, in terms of setting, tone, tempo, and protagonist/antagonist interaction. In a love story the antagonist and protagonist might very well end up having sex and getting married; in a thriller, they might end up killing each other,
Out of Sight
In the superb comedy/action/crime/love story movie Out of Sight, Jack Foley (George Clooney), a failed bank robber, and Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) a US Marshall, share an ostensibly antagonistic relationship, which conceals a growing attraction between them — an attraction usually associated with a full-blown love story. The outer journey — the cop chasing the bank robber — neatly echoes the inner journey — the lover’s chase. The accomplished but disjointed time-line adds to the sense of uncertainty in which the viewer is unsure whether Sisco is out to arrest Jack or make love to him.
Great scenes correspond to the narrative units discussed in previous posts. Each scene performs a specific task and is located at a specific point within the overall story.