Between The Scenes by Jeffrey Michael Bays (book review).

Something that films and books have in common are gaps between scenes or events. Viewers and readers casually accept these as places where nothing happens or isn’t that important to knowing what is going on and can move on to the next important event in the story. I mean, who wants the story to drag?


I suspect that in books, you don’t even think twice when you see a row of asterisks because it is so ingrained that it’s both a scene and time change. Some even use it as a means to take a natural break from reading.

Oddly, ‘Between The Scenes’ is the first book I’ve actually seen discussing not only their use of these gaps but their importance to be used effectively. Whatever the media, it’s generally acknowledged that you might not want to see every last detail because it might cloud the plot, let alone have meal or loo breaks that don’t serve much as well other than to feed or relieve the character. Whether said character does any major thinking in the lapse time is probably shifted to a future scene. If you’re orientated that way, you might even spend some of this down time putting things together in your own head. Likewise, as with prose, you don’t want a repeat of everything that is told to anybody else because if it’s done effectively the first time and the reader or viewer should remember it.

Seeing how this is applied to film does have some value to the prose writer. Author Jeffrey Bays points out that you can’t have a story of tension and it needs some break from it to give the viewer a chance to breathe again and a scene change for another build-up is often the best route. There’s also a sharp reminder that emotions can drive a scene and how it can be applied. He shows examples from over 20 films, including some SF favourites. There are quotes from a variety of famous directors that shows how they see scene breaks as an important ingredient and how to make them flow in the film and give the viewer a chance to think about what they saw and going on. Bays makes an important observation at the end of the book about the differences between TV and cinema in that the latter works better away from outside distractions although I have to confess, despite not being able to go for a long time, that hearing about people slurping drinks and popcorn that this might not be totally accurate to having a nice shared emotional experience.. I have to confess that if I dose off at home watching a film, I can at least go back on the DVD to that point.

Understanding how scene rhythms work is a lesson for anyone in the film industry and prose writers. I mean, if you feel something isn’t working but can’t put your finger on what is wrong, this book does give you the right directions to look at what needs an adjustment. Even better, where to cut off and move to another scene.

I found this book very enlightening. Bays said that after reading this book, I’ll be looking at scene changes differently. Although I suspect many of you who write prose will think they already know where to change scenes but seeing how to improve your options or indeed when to cut and move on will end up having a stronger influence on your storytelling. That, in itself, can’t be a bad thing.

GF Willmetts

January 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 135 page oblong enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), $29.95 (CAN), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-169-9)

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