Strong rope & solid knots required

rope bridge

As long as it leads somewhere

I’m a big believer in tying story elements together whenever possible. While this should already apply to key details within the story, sometimes it’s simply a matter of a setup and payoff, even if it seems like a throwaway item. Bonus points if it ties in to your primary storyline. Which it should.

Case in point: in the opening scene of CHINATOWN, Gittes is showing his client photos of the man’s wife’s infidelity. The man, heartbroken, tells Gittes “if there’s anything you ever need, let me know.” The scene ends, and we figure that’s that. This is what kind of guy Gittes is and what he does, and then we transition into the main storyline. Events play out, and Gittes finds himself cornered in a tough spot.

So how does he get out of it? He leads his pursuers to a house he claims has the answers. But when he knocks on the front door, who answers it? The guy from the opening scene. We’d totally forgotten about him, but it’s a perfect choice. It ties things together, works within the context of the story, and anybody else would have not worked.

Everything in your story should serve a function in helping move the story forward, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.

Do you have characters or events in your script that are strictly one-time-only? What purpose do they serve? If you took them out, would it make a difference?

And if you do keep them, is there any way to change them around so that you have a solid setup and payoff that tie into the overall story? It might not be as tough as you think.

In the outline of my current project, I had some smaller scenes in the first act that were totally unconnected. Going through it a second time, I’ve been finding ways to connect them. Sometimes it’s about using a character making a return appearance, or having some key scenes take place in the same location. Again, it’s all about what works within the context of the story.

(Admittedly, I’m also working on this from the mindset of keeping the budget low. If having the same character appear twice, rather than it being two separate characters, or being able to use a location more than once means less money that needs to be spent, than so be it. It’s an influence, not a rule. But this is me. You may choose to take a different approach.)

Another benefit of tying elements together is that it shows how much thought and effort you’ve put into crafting this story together. The evidence is right there on the page. You’re proving that you’re actually thinking this through and not just randomly throwing things in and hoping something sticks. You’d be surprised how many writers do that.

Don’t be one of them.

3 Responses to Strong rope & solid knots required

  1. Pauline Hetrick says:

    I had a throwaway scene and after reading your article I erased it. Thank you.

  2. To the distraction of my co-writers, everything ties together, for me. It fits my story-sense: I like the “neat little package” of it. Reality doesn’t work that way, but film is just a larger-canvas campfire story, for me; why is it in there if it doesn’t all come back-around?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: