Every scene has a purpose. Once you know that purpose, and you make sure the scene fulfils that purpose, job done, right?
If a man is needs money and he goes to an ATM and gets some cash, and the purpose of the scene is to get him from broke to not broke, then what you have is a dull scene.
Whether you tell me about him getting his money, or you show me him getting his money, it will be just as dull either way.
What the scene lacks isn’t purpose or clarity or action or a character with a goal, what it lacks is drama.
Just because you come up with a reason for the scene, and then demonstrate that purpose in how your character acts, doesn’t make it dramatic. And story is drama. Undramatic story is stuff that happened that nobody cares about.
What is drama? It’s someone wanting something they can’t have, and showing what they do about it.
If a man is broke and needs money desperately and has no obvious way to get it, what he then does to get money will be potentially dramatic. How desperate he is, the lengths he goes to, the risks he takes, these variables can be used to make the scene more dramatic. However, not every scene needs to be pitched at a hysterical level.
The key thing to remember is that after you've worked out your purpose for the scene, you also need to work out the character’s agenda for the scene.
You may need Mary to meet her boyfriend’s mother, and once you arrange that (Hi, Mary, come in. I’d like you to meet my mother) it feels like you can move on to the next thing, but that’s just you getting yours.
What was Mary’s goal? What was she hoping to happen? How can you make that interesting and dramatic?
Remember, the character’s goal and the writer’s goal aren’t always going to be the same, and when they differ, the reader will stay focused on the character.
Nobody cares what you’re doing behind the scenes, and nor should they. Your job is to remain invisible.
But the character who allows ‘fate’ to start making all the decisions and turns up in scenes just to see what happens and then goes along with it, will become passive and boring.
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