How To Form Intimacy And Trust Between Characters In A Single Scene
Sometimes you just don’t have time or energy to carve out a detailed relationship between two characters or maybe you just don’t want to do so much effort and be lazy like me, but at the same time write compelling story that people will believe in.
Whatever your reasons are, the technique I’m going to tell you about is quite simple and powerful. In fact if you are an avid reader or cinephile, you yourself have noticed it many times.
Though I’ve seen many writers use it but noticed only recently in a movie called Tequila Sunrise, written and directed by Robert Towne — who’s also the screenwriter of one of the best screenplays ever written — “Chinatown”, which also won him an Academy Award that year.
The reason it came to my attention cause it was used in the film on two occasion, both times at key scenes when Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters gets involved with two different men — romantically.
The film centers around a love triangle and in order for Michelle Pfeiffer to fall in love with these two men, in two separate scenes — Robert Towne used the same pattern of beats to construct a scene. And it worked like a charm.
The scene can be broken down in three different steps:
- Meeting — This is where two characters meet — A conversation, argument, conflict etc. between them can be introduced in the beginning of scene.
- Accident — This doesn’t necessarily has to be an accident — It is an activity that engages both characters and makes them forget their indifferences.
- Resolve — Whatever the conflict, argument they were having in the beginning of the scene has now dissolved — A mutual trust has been formed between the characters, which was devoid between them when the scene began.
Tequila Sunrise Example 1 — Jo Ann & Nick Frescia
- Meeting — Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer) who runs a stylish restaurant in Los Angeles get asked for a date by a cop (Kurt Russel), whom she recently met. They meet at her restaurant, the date begins with flirtatious conversation (strong sexual tension is getting built up) and continuous even after the restaurant is closed.
- Accident— Jo Ann hears a sound of water coming from the basement of the restaurant and knows something is wrong. Nick (Kurt Russel) follows her there. The water is pouring from the roof because of a leaked pipeline or something and Jo Ann is struggling to clear the basement. Nick goes on to help her out but accidently the chunk of water immediately falls onto him, his whole body gets wet, the whole thing happens very dramatically. Jo Ann couldn’t control her laughter and now starts bursting out laughing.
- Resolve — Nick and Jo Ann, both are laughing after the whole water accident took place. So Nick grabs the opportunity to kiss Jo Ann and immediately they engaged in passionate lovemaking. Tension has dissolved between them.
Tequila Sunrise Example 2 — Jo Ann and Dale McKussic (Mel Gibson)
- Meeting — In the beginning of the scene Dale is at the beach, watching over his young son surfing. Jo Ann has came to see him and they have heated argument because of some misunderstanding. Dale is former high level drug dealer and regular customer of Jo Ann’s restaurant. Thinking she might have some information on him, DEA starts to question Jo Ann. The whole affair makes Dale suspicious of Jo Ann, which makes Dale accuse her of spying on him.
- Accident —Just as they are having an argument, Dale’s son gets into an surfing accident and Dale rushes up to save him. His son is all right but had some neck injury. Jo Ann helps Dale bring his son to his beach house and helps take care of him.
- Resolve —After Dale’s son falls asleep, they come downstairs. Shook from the accident, Dale starts drinking shots. Drunk and adrenaline filled, Dale confesses the motive behind his past actions, which until now made Jo Ann suspicious of Dale. Jo Ann realizes that Dale is in love with her and that she also has fallen for him. Tension has dissolved between them and she now trusts Dale.
By introducing an accident in the scene, you make these characters forget the indifferences between them and act in unison to whatever the situation or problem has posed in front.
To Explain this in more articulated terms I’ll illustrate a paragraph below by — Victor Frankl — A psychiatrist, neurologist and bestselling author of “Man’s Search For Meaning” (book on autobiographical account as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps)
Let me cite an experiment once conducted by Carolyn Wood Sherif. She has succeeded in artificially building up mutual aggression between groups of boys scouts, and observed the aggression only subsided when youngsters dedicated themselves to a collective purpose — that is, the joint task of dragging out of mud a carriage in which food had to be bought to their camp. Immediately, they were not only challenged but also united by a meaning they had to fulfill.
— Victor Frankl