Weekly Updates

Audio Version

  • Morgan says, "Happy October, y'all."
  • NEW GROUPS this week.
  • The Punctuation Guide
  • Don’t forget to read the assignments and notes carefully.
  • Each lesson is a building block that you are supposed to take forward.

Return to Film 210 Main Page

Audio Version

Scene Dynamics

Up to this point in the class, we've been exploring a very linear line of action. In this lesson, we are going to look at three ways you can complicate that line of action.

But first a quick refresher

WOARO is a linear path to action. Characters have a want with an obstacle in the way. They take action towards that want, eliciting responses. This goes back and forth until they either get what they want or don't.

Once we get to the end, we have a sense of completion and because of this idea, WOARO can operates on every level of story, whether big (story) or small (scene or beat):

  • Script
  • Acts
  • Scenes
  • Beats

Changing up the Dynamics

Although there is plenty of drama and dynamics that can occur in the transactions between action and response, we can also change up the line of action to create interesting scene dynamics.

Let's explore three.

1. Reversals

The simplest way to change scene dynamics is to shift the outcome.

In a basic version of WOARO, the character struggles to get what they want and through their actions, either achieve it or don't. The outcome is guaranteed to be one or the other.

In a reversal of the situation, the outcome is redirected along a new path of action, often stemming from unknown information from a separate, previously undisclosed storyline. The storyline is still wrapped up, but not in the expected manner.

The godfather of story theory, Aristotle,  talked about reversals in Oedipus Rex, wherein he discovers that he murdered his father and married his mother.

A newer version might be The Sixth Sense, where Bruce Willis discovers that he is in fact a ghost, and didn't survive the encounter with the patient from the start of the story.

Aristotle also pointed out that the reversal often hinges on the change ignorance to knowledge, and we often use recognition to reveal it.

Lastly, he believed there was a hierarchy recognition, moving from least to most artistic:

  1. signs (scars, tokens, etc...)
  2. being told (I am the killer.)
  3. memory
  4. the process of reasoning

2. A shift occuring on who controls the action

Similar to a reversal, another change to the dynamics of the scene is buy shifting who controls the action.

As we saw last week, a simple linear path of a scene has your protagonist controlling the line of action: a character has a want and takes action to achieve it (attack, attack, attack), or a character responds to stimulus (defend, defend, defend).

A way to change this dynamic is to make a shift within the scene whether your protagonist is controlling the action or is responding to attacks.

Ernest Hemingway was a master at using these shifts in his short stories. A story like Hills Like White Elephants shows a couple talking while waiting for a train. The man wants the woman to have an abortion, but she is hesitant. The shift occurs when she states, "Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me."

This line of dialogue completely shifts the dynamic of the scene, putting the man on the defense, and placing the woman in control. After this moment, she continues to control the scene.

Another example occurs in many of Shakespeare's tragedies. In Romeo and Juliet, the line of action is progressing towards the young couple getting married and bringing the family together. This shifts (is reversed) when Tybalt kills Mercutio, which leads Romeo to kill Tybalt, thus dooming the happy outcome.

3. A shift occuring through underlying wants and actions

The final way to change the scene dynamic is to reveal an underlying action of a character, which often leads to an unexpected outcome.

In this scenario, one character controls the line of action of the scene and we assume they are in control. Unknown to them—and most likely the audience— the other character has a different intention within the scene, which isn't revealed until later in the scene, often the outcome.

Two final examples [spoilers ahead]:

Michael Clayton

The drive of the final scene in Michael Clayton is:
"What does Michael want from Karen?" Once we realize it's the bribe, we think that once it is fulfilled, the story is done...

But it isn't. It is a false want/outcome. Because his real want (to get her to admit to a conspiracy to commit murder ) is operating beneath the scene. Karen (and the audience) have an incorrect assumption of the outcome.


Similarly, Se7en places our protagonists in control, driving John Doe out of the city to find the last two bodies.

The villain seems shackled and not in control for the last act of the film (or 20 pages in the script). (Interestingly, despite his weak position, John Doe is still able to elicit a reaction out of Detective Mills.)

Once we arrive in the desert, the power shifts to John Doe. The police officers are placed into a defensive position, expecting to find bodies or an ambush. But the ambush isn't physical but psychological. The delivery van arrives and the detective's expectations of the outcome are subverted.

Note how there are two scenes, two sets of action (the detectives vs. John Doe). The detectives seemingly control the first scene and John Doe controls the second. As well, both sets of characters have separate over-arching wants (to find the bodies, to reveal the final sins), but it is when John Doe's underlying plan is revealed that the power truly shifts into his control.

Film 210 - Week 6 Exercise - Scene dynamics

Audio version

Write a 2-3 page script of any type, that contains two characters in opposition and where one of the character’s actions lead to a shift in power.

Again, this is about exploring how want, action, and response shift the dynamics and outcome of a scene. One character will control the action, until they will lose that control to the other character and are placed into a defensive/response position.

Marking Criteria:

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week’s assignment?
  • Proper screenplay format (including active, present tense; sluglines; character introductions, descriptions), as well as spelling, punctuation, grammar (5 mistakes allowed per script).
  • Proper use of WOARO. A character with a want must reach an outcome, either getting it or being incapable of getting it by the end.
  • Proper page count of assignment.

Due: Sunday, October 11 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).

Return to Film 210 Main Page