Vol. I, Issue 2, August 3, 2007
In this Issue
Is Your Scene D.O.A.?
Dead On Arrival. You know the kind of scene we’re talking about. No matter what you do it just lays there, lifeless. Discover how to jumpstart that scene and pack it with tension before it even starts.

Upcoming Interviews

An author who wrote his unbelievable autobiography, sold it, and then turned into his first screenplay.

The man who teaches writers to write at lightning speed.
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Feature Article
Is Your Scene D.O.A.?

You know the scene we mean. All the pieces seem to be in the right places. The characters have objectives -- maybe there’s even some clever dialogue -- and yet...it’s oddly vacant. Like a bad Merlot, it’s flaccid and lifeless.

Not to worry. It turns out there’s a simple fix. It’s called The Moment Before.

Picture the start of a 100 yard dash at the Olympics. Runners shake out their limbs, crouch into starting blocks, set their feet, lift their heads and...wait. In that moment, all of their energy and strength is poised, ready to spring at the crack of the gun.

Now, not every scene requires the starting energy of a race, but no matter what kind of scene it is, you need to create a feeling of momentum, of story in motion. The reader and the audience expect to be swept along.

It turns out your best opportunity to prime the scene is the moment before it opens. When you think carefully about the Moment Before it not only gives your scene more energy and conflict, but it also grounds the scene, makes it more authentic and creates opportunities for surprising dialogue.

Here are four ways to think about the moment before:

1. The Long Moment Before – This is the day, the week, the journey leading up to opening of this scene. If a woman flies from Denver to New York to retrieve her runaway daughter, for the sake of good, crisp storytelling the script may simply cut from the mother receiving a phone call to her plane landing at JFK. But as a writer you can’t skip that journey.

What was it like for the mother to pack? Did she bother? How did she feel as she went through security? Did she drink on the plane? Was the flight delayed? Did she forget to rent a car? Was the cab driver rude to her? How is the mother’s emotional state changing in relation to the moment she’s about to experience?

You may decide the trip is a revelation for her. If her young daughter could negotiate a perilous cross-country journey maybe she’s more capable than the mother realized. Or you may decide the mother experiences the trip as one more burden her daughter has forced upon her. However you decide to treat the trip, it’s easy to see the impact it will have on the energy and attitude of the mother as she enters the scene.

2. The Immediate Moment Before – This is literally the instant before the scene begins. It’s the last act and/or thought a character has before the scene opens. It’s important to establish energy and tone, but also, like a last minute collision of billiard balls, it can change the trajectory of your scene.

Imagine the mother in the scene above had time to cool off on her trip and decides she’ll hear what her daughter has to say. Then, just before she enters the apartment in New York, she bumps into a man coming out who’s buttoning up his shirt. Her calm is shattered and she enters with a new energy. Your Long Moment Before isn’t wasted, though. Now she can use it to punish her daughter. “I thought maybe you’d grown up! I was ready to listen. But now I see you’re just a stupid child!”

3. The Other Character’s Moment – Every character in a scene has a moment before and they’re all different. Each one is thinking about and/or doing something different. Just because your main character has a plan doesn’t mean he gets to use it. This is an important distinction. One of the best ways to create immediate tension in a scene is to have one character steal another’s moment. Let the second character start the scene with his own agenda that’s been building. Now your main character is forced to fight for what she wants right out of the blocks.

4. Thoughts are Moments too. Even if a character is doing something as simple as sitting at a desk, they’re still thinking. They have their own interior life. Chances are they’re not waiting for your main character to walk through the door. If you’ve thought about what your character is thinking it offers an opportunity for fresh dialogue. “Don’t ever get married.” “God, I love steak.” Even a simple “What?” can be effective. It’s an authentic reaction, creates rhythm and causes your main character to work harder.

So next time you want to energize a lackluster scene, give it a Moment. A moment may be all you need to turn it around.

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Lisa Phelps Dawes, President of Sceneplay, is an Emmy® award-winning writer/director helping screenwriters and producers rewrite their scripts using professional actors. If you’re ready for your scenes to jump to life, work three times harder, and get noticed, get your FREE tips now at www.sceneplay.net.
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