While so many screenwriting techniques and manuals focus on the personalities of characters and the technical side of writing a script, very few focus on one of the most important elements of screenwriting – when the audience is allowed to join the scene. That is, when should a scene start? It’s important to remember that while you’re writing a scene, these people and their lives are constantly moving and changing. Simply because you haven’t written it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – this is a vital element to remember regarding the moments before and after a scene. Imagine yourself as a conductor. It is up to you to determine when the violins and trumpets begin to play.
Determining at what moment within the story to start a scene is essential to not only progress the script, but to highlight various emotional and personality elements of characters.
What You Want to Show
Whenever a scene begins, you are choosing this specific moment within this world to begin recording. The most valuable screenwriting technique to remember is knowing what you want to show audience members. There are three rules you must follow when choosing when to begin a scene:
Character Revelations – Picking up a scene at a specific moment within a conversation or moment within the day of a character determines what is revealed about this character. Even if you know that moments before the scene the character was smoking a cigarette, starting the scene after he comes back inside to teach his class about the dangers of smoking hides the secret that he is actually a smoker. Be mindful about how you want your character to be perceived at that specific moment in time while understanding how you wish him to reveal himself in future scenes.
Distraction or Magnification – Starting a scene a specific moment can distract audience members from what is actually happening. On the other hand, the moment you choose can magnify a specific situation or scenario. For example, when you choose to start a scene where a bank teller is about to be robbed will either distract or magnify the situation. Starting the scene a few moments before the robbery distracts the audience to the forthcoming drama while starting the scene a few moments after the robbery instantly forces the audience into this dramatic situation, therefore magnifying the trauma and emotions within the scene.
Scene Objectives – Of course, the timing in which you begin a scene plays a direct role in how the objectives of a scene are not only carried out, but perceived. The moment a scene starts allows a character a chance to build false respect from the audience or the opposite. The perception of the audience is then used to shape how the character achieves his scene-objective as well as his overall story objective.