When to resist connecting things in your script
Warning: I mention Arrival, The Sixth Sense, and The Last Jedi, but I’ll try to skirt around any major or explicit spoilers…
Now, in this blog I thought I’d share a few thoughts on connections in scripts. By this I don’t mean the massive reveals or reversals that can satisfyingly stop you in your tracks (like in Arrival or The Sixth Sense), rather the small connections that writers make in an effort to ‘tidy things up’.
When creating a fictional world there is a tendency to try to make order out of it; give it a neatness that perhaps wouldn’t exist in real life. We start with a blank page and we have to fill in the world for the audience. So it’s natural that we want things to join up. And if a connection can also be a reveal or a reversal then all well and good. But sometimes writers make things too neat, too tidy – with no obvious benefit in terms of story or surprise.
So when should you resist making a connection in the script?
The bottom line is perhaps - don’t do it if it adds nothing in terms of tone or story.
I give you a few examples of connections that should have been dropped. And they are from films that I’m sure everyone has seen - the Star Wars films.
Firstly, it’s always bugged me that George Lucas decided that Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO. Why did he do this? Why, oh why? In my mind, this is an example of a connection that is pointless and even harmful to the script. All it does is serve to reduce the galactic scope of Star Wars and test the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. It all suddenly becomes a bit small. I’m guessing that George Lucas was so fired up in ensuring that all his lead characters were connected in some way that he got carried away.
Similarly why do the Clone Troopers have to be based on Jango Fett (Boba Fett’s dad)? Again it reduces the canvas of the drama and serves to demystify Boba Fett. Remember he became an iconic character even though he was barely in The Empire Strikes Back and said very little. How different that could have been if he’d splurged his whole back story about his dad and the clones in that bounty hunter line up.
One of the pleasing things about The Last Jedi was (mini-spoiler alert) that Rian Johnson resisted making the code breaker Lando Calrissian. When Rose and Finn headed to the casino world, I felt apprehension that we would get that connection – which again, nice character aside, would have reduced the canvas of the universe in the films.
When writing a script, it’s pleasing when certain things interconnect and slot into place. You can do a nice reveal or reversal that plays into something we’ve already learnt in the story and, when done well, it gives the reader / audience a satisfying moment. And that small rush you get when you’ve constructed a connection can be quite an addictive feeling – so the danger is to engineer more of them into your script until it becomes so interconnected - with every cog meshing to another cog – that it is no longer believable. So it is always a balance between making sensible and believable connections and resisting overkill.
In fact, it is often more effective to lead your audience to thinking a small connection is about to be made – but then twisting things to give them something else.