building that page-turning momentum...



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  • building that page-turning momentum...

    ...or cheating the reader?

    i was wondering what the general consensus was on leaving a scene unresolved.

    here's an off-the-cuff example...


    Jack looks at his watch: 2 AM. He grabs the testtube filled with the bright orange liquid and is about to pour it into the percolating beaker of green when

    JILL (o.s.)
    Dammit Jack. Don't do it.

    Jack turns around and sees Jill in her low cut party dress and high heels enter the lab.

    It's our only chance.

    He pours and the orange mixes with the green, and the heat from the reaction gets very intense, bubbles pop and steam billows. Colors swirl orange and green, becoming purple and red, becoming yellow and black, and finally, a deep blue. The boiling stops, the steam lifts, revealing a scared Jack as he raises the flask to his mouth.

    No. It's not. There has to be another way.

    I guess that means you weren't able to get the information then.

    Jill looks away, her face turned down in despair, her quiet answers Jack.

    Jack stares into the open mouth of the flask, into the deep blue liquid.


    Jill runs out. Screaming.



    so obviously, I leave the reader with the impression that jack drank the blue stuff...but i don't say what happened. from the next scene, the reader knows something bad happened. really bad. and the reader is curious as hell to find out what. you'd better believe that page is turning fast, and the reader wants some kind of clue as to what happened.

    now, here's my Q: did i cheat the reader by leaving the scene unresolved, by not saying jack drank the blue stuff, that he bounced around the walls, that his hair turned silver and grew out two feet and his face grew oblong, and then he dropped lifeless onto the floor? (or whatever else the reader imagined might have happened).

    because it is so possible to write an entire screenplay like this, leaving unresolved cliffhangers leading into the next unresolved cliffhanger and on and on until the end, when you do finally resolve it (which would be fade out).

    if this kind of method is employed, trust me, you'd flip through the screenplay like your life depended on it...but would you feel cheated at the end...or not?

  • #2
    Aces in the sleeve, pant leg, underwear elastic...

    I wouldn't feel cheated, if a film followed this technique up to an all-revealing climax. Loose ends aren't bad. Fray that mother(shut yo' mouth)up. The more secrets you have, the more invested the audience member becomes.

    I only feel cheated when the camera lies(ie. Usual Suspects), when a trailer misrepresents a film, or when I've wasted 8.50 on a steaming pile.


    • #3
      Re: unresolved scenes...

      In a way, The Game was nothing but unresolved scenes. I love movies like that!... and I must assume a reader would love to flip the page just to find out what happens. Isn't that the key of gaining interest in a script? However, I do think that you have to resolve some of those "hangers" so there is some satisfaction to the reader, and doesn't cause he/she to say, "Oh, this is crazy, adn I'm tired of not knowing what the h*** is happening here!" After all, even if we know or can guess the punchline to a good joke, don't we still want to hear it delivered?


      • #4
        Not Cheated At All

        That's just good writing. Sucks you into the story and keeps you flipping the pages. If someone is going to feel cheated because they have to flip a page, you probably don't want that lazy person producing your script anyway.

        BTW I love not knowing the full details. I liked Usual Suspects and Sixth Sense. Not every film can be like that, but it's nice to be surprised by a story. If it's told very well and the ending is plausibly interesting, you want to go watch the film a second time to catch what you missed the first. The plausible part comes in where you put in details that aren't obvious but upon later review support the real ending. Just my two cents.


        • #5
          Screw the reader.

          Will the viewer feel cheated is far more to the point. My naive, unsold, unproduced perspective is that I am not writing for a reader, I am writing for the screen and if I resolve things in a way satisfactory to an audience then it will be satisfactory to a reader as well.


          • #6
            Re: Amen

            RE: the TOPIC at hand -- I'm in a quandary here. Yeah, I dig the way you wrote it, Saramu, and yeah I got it. And I think it'll work fine on screen, but:

            when do you worry more about making sure a READER digs it (so it'll "sell"), and when a DIRECTOR would dig it (as they're making it)... Did that make sense, and shall we start another topic for the question? Not trying to clutter this one up.


            <!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> Swan - I edited out a ref. to a deleted post. - Bill, who has been sleeping all day.<!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->


            • #7

              A scene like yours would make me read on.

              It would be engaging if you have already included an earlier hint, as to the dangerous nature of the substance, or a similar substance that this guy looks like he's about to gulp down. If you have done this already, then your scene will work for me.

              As long as we - the audience - are aware of the madness of drinking this stuff, BEFORE he drinks it, we will be turning the pages faster to see what happens next.

              I would only feel cheated if the outcome was NOT resolved, in a natural way, later in the screenplay.


              • #8
                Daughter of Lir...

                in Adventure in the Screen Trade, William Goldman quotes somebody (who I can't remember right now...but it was interesting)...something like "a great screenplay will help get a movie made. in the end, it may not be the same as the screenplay, but the movie wouldn't have gotten made without it."

                i paraphrased it to hell, but the essence is still the same. i took it to heart, so whenever i sit down to write, i want to tell a great story that will be an intense read. i'll stick to the rules and conventions, but i think at this point in the game, it's our job to impress the reader and not the moviegoer.

                because, in the end, that is going to set you apart from all the other screenplays in the stack.

                i picture the reader with his hair frazzled, eyes wide-open, his wire frame at the tip of his nose and the screenplay tightly held in his sweaty palms, its pages wrinkled from the moisture and the grip. and when the last page is turned, his tightly pursed lips break into a toothy grin. he sets it down, checks the recommend box on the in-house form and leans back into his chair. i can dream, can't i?


                • #9

                  Okay, Sarumu1, you've got me hooked. Now, are you going to tell us what really happend in that damn lab?!

                  And, if this is any indication of how you consistently write, leaving the reader hangin'--wanting more, I like it.


                  • #10
                    Re: Hooked.

                    Sar, you're right on the money re: writing for the reader and not the screen. There's time to fill in transition gaps or slight logic problems when you're working on a shooting script with a director.

                    One of the best credos new writers should take to heart is (to quote Scott Frank)"getting into scenes late and getting out early". Fundamentally, it's a matter of respecting the audience's intelligence, intuiting what they've already assumed (everything, usually) and never telling us something we can easily guess.

                    This eliminates a lot of "shoe leather" - extraneous information we don't need. The power of the Cut is enormous. Cuts leap to speak to what is foremost on the audience's mind -

                    If you are writing a heist movie, the audience already knows there's going to be a heist - so the question can't be "will they go through with the robbery?". We know they will.

                    Now: a standard mistake would be to have a scene where the robbers PLAN the robbery, revealing how they intend to pull it off - and then show a scene of them doing what they've just decided to do.

                    Instead you get out of the planning scene BEFORE they give any details of the plan and then cut INSIDE the bank or whatever to experience the surprise and ingenuity of the robbers from the POV of the victim.

                    Otherwise the robbery scene becomes "shoe leather" - we know what's going to happen, and are thus saying, "okay, c'mon, c'mon what happens next?".

                    OR you have a PLAN scene then CUT to the MIDDLE of the robbery when something in the plan goes wrong and they have to start improvising. The key is always know the audience's questions at each point in your script and cut to speak to the question instead of giving extra information they don't need.

                    So if anything - I would say show even LESS in the example. The whole thing could be done without dialogue. A look exchanged between the two people, a marker that says "toxic" on the beaker, sweat on the brow....

                    that's storytelling.


                    • #11


                      The only time you'll cheat a reader/viewer is when you set something up and fail to pay if off effectively.

                      I like your style.


                      • #12
                        Re: Hooked.

                        Thanks, Tao. As always--very insightful.


                        • #13
                          Occasionnaly I'll prefer an intriguing non-resolution over a quick, banal resolution.

                          For instance the equivocal ending of Basic Instinct (not my favorite exemple, but I can't seem to come up with a better one at the moment). Or the "something nasty in the woodshed" the old lady saw in Cold Comfort Farm - an effective device for comedy. Even the odd "Eye of Beholder" left me wondering - not sure whether I liked it or not, I still have to think about.


                          • #14
                            very kind comments

                            wow. everyone has been very kind...

                            i brought up the thread because two pieces i've recently read made me think about it: 1) an unproduced screenplay "national treasure" by jim kouf and 2) a novel "the amazing adventures of kavalier and clay" by michael chabon.

                            both of them made use of cutting scenes when it became obvious how things were going to play out or intentionally to keep forward momentum going. my fear (and the reason i started the thread) was that it might leave the reader with an empty feeling at the end, because that's how i felt at the end of national treasure (but not kav&clay). i wanted to get as many opinions on it as i could.

                            my assessment thus far: it is very powerful and after reading everyone's comments, i think it's absolutely necessary to try and make use of it whenever possible.

                            thanx again for insights and opinions...

                            ps. i've said it before, and i guess i'll say it again- i give kavalier and clay the highest recommendation. if you have time to read, then please read it. chabon writes incredibly long beautiful sentences that evoke imagery that screenwriters will appreciate. the book itself is about a bizarre love triangle set in the golden age of comics (pre WWII) and follows the characters about twenty years. if you grew up reading comic books (i did), then you will doubly appreciate it.


                            • #15
                              Re: Screw the reader

                              OI!. I think I need to qualify my subject-line statement from my above post...

                              What I mean is simple: write the movie, tell the story, have fun doing it. By my definition that means an interesting read.

                              Yes it is important to please the reader, of course it is. But that is the first reader. You need also to impress subsequent readers, those to whom that first 'recommend' is passed and if you have written a good read but not a good movie then, well, that second (or third) reader will pass on it.

                              The first reader may well be the foot in the door but the door can still be slammed.