Eavesdropping Worthy Moments

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  • Eavesdropping Worthy Moments

    Just to get something new going and hopefully generating some action, I am going to offer a suggestion for writers who feel like their scenes are flat and lacking tension. Think of the scene as something the reader is eavesdropping on. The rule for eavesdropping is that it has to be juicy and it's something not meant to be witnessed.

    Picture yourself at the grocery store, the lady in front of you is chit chatting to the cashier about the weather which is making the cashier do her job more slowly. Not only would you not give two sh!ts about their conversation, but it would possibly piss you off.

    Now imagine yourself at the grocery store and all of a sudden the Lady in front of you accuses the cashier of sleeping with her husband. You'd hang on every word. We all would. That's an eavesdropping worthy moment. It's juicy and it's something better done in private.

    Scenes to stories need to be eavesdropping worthy moments. The reader needs to feel like they are bearing witness to a real moment, something telling, something juicy. If you can do this, the reader will never want to turn away from your script. They will be salivating for the next moment that pushes characters out of their comfort zone and can't wait to see how they react/act to get out of the uncomfortable moment.

    Lots of times in scripts of budding writers you read these long, long scenes that go on and on trying to establish character without conflict(this is why it takes so much space). You show us he's a baker by making us follow him around for five pages making cakes. Would you wanna eavesdrop in on that? And for how long? What if instead of watching him bake cakes we watched him get dressed up in costume and go to a rival and start a huge scene that there was a roach in his cake. That's something I'd eavesdrop on for sure. The action also says worlds about the character as well without admitting to or offering up anything in dialogue.

    When you are going through your scenes, ask yourself if this is something the reader would want to eavesdrop on? Is it juicy? Is it a moment not meant to be witnessed but we're there anyway?


  • #2
    I just steal from real life people who I have eavesdropped on while at the grocery store. Much easier!

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Cyfress View Post
      Just to get something new going and hopefully generating some action, I am going to offer a suggestion for writers who feel like their scenes are flat and lacking tension. Think of the scene as something the reader is eavesdropping on. The rule for eavesdropping is that it has to be juicy and it's something not meant to be witnessed.

      Picture yourself at the grocery store, the lady in front of you is chit chatting to the cashier about the weather which is making the cashier do her job more slowly. Not only would you not give two sh!ts about their conversation, but it would possibly piss you off.

      Now imagine yourself at the grocery store and all of a sudden the Lady in front of you accuses the cashier of sleeping with her husband. You'd hang on every word. We all would. That's an eavesdropping worthy moment. It's juicy and it's something better done in private.

      Scenes to stories need to be eavesdropping worthy moments. The reader needs to feel like they are bearing witness to a real moment, something telling, something juicy. If you can do this, the reader will never want to turn away from your script. They will be salivating for the next moment that pushes characters out of their comfort zone and can't wait to see how they react/act to get out of the uncomfortable moment.

      Lots of times in scripts of budding writers you read these long, long scenes that go on and on trying to establish character without conflict(this is why it takes so much space). You show us he's a baker by making us follow him around for five pages making cakes. Would you wanna eavesdrop in on that? And for how long? What if instead of watching him bake cakes we watched him get dressed up in costume and go to a rival and start a huge scene that there was a roach in his cake. That's something I'd eavesdrop on for sure. The action also says worlds about the character as well without admitting to or offering up anything in dialogue.

      When you are going through your scenes, ask yourself if this is something the reader would want to eavesdrop on? Is it juicy? Is it a moment not meant to be witnessed but we're there anyway?
      I agree with the overall gist of what you're saying, but not the way you're saying it. Yes, scenes should be interesting, drive the story (plot and character) forward, etc. However, you seem to be suggesting every scene needs to be "juicy" and eavesdrop-worthy outside of context. That to me is a recipe for melodrama, which I absolutely abhor. I do think a lot of people in the screenwriting world agree with you and have similar expectations for all or most scenes. My subjective experience is that there is a notable uptick in melodrama, really bad melodrama on TV and in movies. I saw about 15 movies over a four day period at a film festival recently and two prestige movies with big stars, generating pre-release buzz, were borderline unwatchable. I wanted to leave five minutes after sitting down, largely because they follow the dictum you've laid out here.

      The most illustrative counter-argument is Pulp FIction. Long conversations about whether a foot rub qualifies as a sexual act or the vagaries of the metric system are not juicy nor eavesdrop-worthy moments. The whole reason that movie is great is because it highlights those moments of mostly mundane discussion between the gangster stuff.

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      • #4
        I'm definitely not supporting melodrama. I'm not saying juicy in a soap opera way. Where every scene is about who is sleeping with who. But there is a way to present the scenes in a way that makes the reader feel like they are witnessing a real moment and not some back and forth between characters that just seems to go on and on with no point.

        Pulp Fiction is always gonna be the exception to the rules. It is for structure, it is for dialogue. Yea, a conversation about what they call the quarter pounder in Europe isn't like juicy but it plays. The only reason that moment is in the film is because Tarantino was in Denmark or somewhere in Europe when writing Pulp.

        But if a budding writer thinks there are gonna write scenes like that, I think that may be a bigger mistake than writing melodrama.

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        • #5
          I always describe writing dialogue as a brief, intricate dance where every line is its own event.

          Each line of dialogue should be interesting and punchy enough to stand on its own while also setting up another character to say something just as interesting immediately after in a way that builds up to a predetermined informational and dramatic point in the shortest way possible.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Cyfress View Post
            I'm definitely not supporting melodrama. I'm not saying juicy in a soap opera way. Where every scene is about who is sleeping with who. But there is a way to present the scenes in a way that makes the reader feel like they are witnessing a real moment and not some back and forth between characters that just seems to go on and on with no point.

            Pulp Fiction is always gonna be the exception to the rules. It is for structure, it is for dialogue. Yea, a conversation about what they call the quarter pounder in Europe isn't like juicy but it plays. The only reason that moment is in the film is because Tarantino was in Denmark or somewhere in Europe when writing Pulp.

            But if a budding writer thinks there are gonna write scenes like that, I think that may be a bigger mistake than writing melodrama.
            Melodrama is using sensational events and exaggerated characters. Soap operas are good examples, but it goes beyond the topic of love.

            I don't think Pulp Fiction is an exception, which is my point. I was using it as an example of good/great writing that does not follow your dictum. I would go so far as every movie I've ever loved does not follow the "juicy" "eavesdrop-worthy" rule you're suggesting.

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            • #7
              So when Zed let’s the Gimp out of the trunk, that’s not an eavesdropping worthy moment? How about when Marcellus Wallace’s girlfriend O.D.’s? Not an eavesdropping worthy moment? There’s plenty of juicy moments in pulp fiction. You’re talking about one scene where they talk about the quarter pounder being called the Royal with Cheese.

              Why does a juicy moment have to be melodrama?

              a screenplay full of mundane moments for sure would never work. Drama is juicy by nature.

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              • #8
                The scenes you reference are visual not aural. So someone eavesdropping would hear nothing that makes any sense, ie, not juicy.

                I didn't say a juicy or eavesdrop-worthy moment is necessarily melodramatic. You said it should be a test for all scenes, and I'm saying that's a recipe for melodrama. And it's not good advice to follow.

                Conflict is drama. Juicy is something you're injecting that to me should only be sprinkled in conservatively.

                To put a finer point on Pulp Fiction, the reason I chose it as an example here is because those asides are what make it special. If you take those out you're left with a so-so movie. A perfect illustration of how important they are to the narrative is when Jules and Vincent go retrieve the macguffin. They get to the door, Jules looks at his watch and decides it's not quite time yet, so they walk a few steps farther and continue their foot rub conversation before putting on their game faces and barging into the apartment, interrupting a wholesome breakfast. The gangster stuff is a role in their lives, when they aren't playing that role they are more or less like everyone else.

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                • #9
                  You can eavesdrop/spy on actions. It doesn’t have to be dialogue. Point is, there needs to be meat on the bone for the reader in every scene.

                  and it’s ok for people to look at things differently but arrive at the same place.

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