Meaty scene design?
Some may know I’m a bit of a Pirates fan and even if no one had ever thought to turn the amusement park ride into a movie, I’d still be a huge fan of Ted and Terry, who need little intro in the realm of the scribosphere. The duo is pretty legendary and I was lucky enough to stumble across Wordplay in my early college days before the hallucinations started. Their columns are just… I don’t even know. They rock so hard all my attempts at kissing their ass just fail to measure up. I might as well don the Buddy Hollies and head into the basement to do a public access show about them at this point.
Anyway the point is Pirates= awesomeness. Recently some production art for the 3rd flick has shown up at digg, and reading the discussion thread there has just incited some deep seated rage in me. Which, to be honest, is what happens when I hear about 45% of the reaction to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I just can’t fathom why there’s been so much hate. I loved the damn film- and there is a point in this rambling- because there’s so much going on in every moment and every scene.
Scene design, as it happens, is something I’m kinda struggling with tonight. A lot of the time an idea for a scene starts with a line of dialogue in my head, even before I completely understand my characters. There’s a beat in a sequence of events that’s carrying my character on their journey and the most immediate way for me to begin picturing it is coming up with how the character reacts. So I have the character say something smart ass (or not) which is in turn directed at another character that then is in the scene, and I end up with a line or two I like, and from there I can pull out somethings to start building the scene with.
There are probably some problems with this approach- (I did say I was struggling with it, didn’t I?) For instance the line sometimes doesn’t always express anything necessary, which I hope kinda becomes apparent at some point. You run the risk of then creating completely irrelevant scenes. Hell, if you get really carried away you can end up in a completely different story entirely. I don’t know that I’d suggest anyone design a scene like this and I couldn’t even put up much of an argument if you suggested this was the worst way altogether (feel free to give me a better alternative). But it keeps me pretty close to the character I’ve designed, which I think is important, cause you definitely want you characters to stay recognizable throughout.
Once I kinda have a framework down for the scenelette, it’s a matter of going back and examining all the scenelettes for what information, plots, character subtext, motivations and etc that they’re conveying. Then you can start trying to crush them together- or layer if you prefer. Cover as much ground, in as little space as possible. My delusional ideal is eventually crafting scenes that then convey so much goddamn information you don’t even process it all- but still push along the story.
Not that I’m all that good at it, but that’s the idea, anyway. Every word should establish something, nothing wasted. I chant this to myself, because that’s how I think it should be, but it might not always be possible. And sometimes fun sugary goodness is just fun, sugary goodness. (I think perhaps, that I haven’t earned the right to just declare the fun sugary goodness scenes personally, which is what all the chanting is for, cause being the meager hack I am, I have no time for luxury. Once I can effectively tell my story, then maybe I’ll reconsider. Impostor syndrome FTW!)
So awesome scenes are fat free slabs of lean beef that you just choke on. Which is why I mention Pirates, because the one thing that movie does, is bombard you. I love watching something and having someone say – “Hey did you see that?” and me having to buy another ticket to go back and FIND that shit. That is fucking awesome! There’ s so much to chew on, why can’t shit like that spring from my head fully formed?! Because I obviously suck, but I keep working at it.
Tonight I’m tackling a scene that I can trace the story moment through- launches everyone into the next scene, which then launches them into the next, etc; there’s a character reveal or two; and there’s a perfunctory material acquisition that enables something else down the line so plot I guess. But it doesn’t really seem like enough, I can cut it down to three characters and keep it under two pages and it still doesn’t have enough meat in it. And that’s where my scene design algorithm fails, because it’s all good if you have shit in bulk, but if you come up short it sucks. Is coming up short even an option? I mean, pages counts right? I know there’s still over length fatty scenes elsewhere. I just wish there was another chunk of muscle in this scene, so I just stare, belabor and blog.