Negotiation in a Scene
Our story editor called a meeting of the readers to tell us none of us had any idea what a scene was. I was surprised; I thought I knew. A scene is a short piece of a movie, taking place in one location and one span of time, in which some action takes place or some information is given.
Wrong, she said. And proceeded to explain that a scene is a business deal. It may not involve money but it will always involve some change in the contract between characters or in the balance of power. It’s a transaction, in which two or more people enter with one kind of deal between them, and negotiate or battle until a new deal has been cut, at which point the scene should end.
It could be the reversal of a power structure. The underdog seizes power by blackmail. Or it could be the forging of a new alliance or enmity. A boy asks a girl out and she accepts or rejects his offer. The meat of the scene is the negotiation to arrive at the new deal, and when the deal is cut, the scene is over, period. If there’s no new deal, it’s not a scene, or at least it’s not a scene that’s pulling its weight in the script. It’s a candidate either for cutting or for rewriting
The story editor pointed out that many writers don’t know what a scene is, either, and put in non-scenes that are just there “to build character” or to get across exposition. They don’t know when to begin and end a scene, wasting time with introductions and chit-chat and dragging the scene out long after the transaction has been concluded. The scene is the deal. When the deal is done, get off the stage.