The Secret of Scriptwriting

Well, anyway one of the secrets of scriptwriting. It's a common device in films to introduce something in the early stages which will turn out to be significant later on: for example in North by Northwest (1959) the book of matches with the hero's initials on. However, the problem is that if whatever it is is simply introduced, the audience is liable to think, 'Ah, that's significant', which rather spoils the surprise when it returns later as a plot point. In order to do this, a reason has to be found for introducing it, so that it seems to have fulfilled its plot function: then the audience simply forgets about it. Two examples:

A case of getting it wrong: in 36 Hours (1965), James Garner knows the plans for D-Day. The Germans capture and drug him: when he wakes up he appears to be an a US Army hospital camp, and is told he has amnesia and the war has been over for several years - this in an attempt to get him to reveal the plans as part of his 'therapy'. In an early scene, while discussing the plans, he cuts his finger on the edge of a map. Since this has no obvious point, there is little surprise later on when he gets salt in the cut - proving to him that hours, not years, have passed.

A case of getting it right: in Aliens (1986), Sigourney Weaver is reluctantly returning with a group of space marines to the planet where her ship picked up an alien which killed the rest of her crew. The marines are contemptuous of her: while the ship is being loaded she shows that she can operate a powered loading device (the only job she could get on her return) - this demonstrates that she is not just a helpless female and the marines come to accept her.

At the end of the film, in the final battle with the mother Alien, she uses the loader as a weapon: since it seemed to have fulfilled its dramatic function on its first appearance the audience has forgotten it and its re-appearance comes as a satisfying dramatic surprise.

Posted: Mon - January 28, 2008 at 09:13 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM