When writing a scene I also work to bring the tension up. Falling off a curb and spraining an ankle? How about falling off a cliff and breaking your back? You get the idea. But I’ve also found that I have to use some judgement about how far I take things or they begin to shift from suspense to comedy. A case in point is a scene from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol I watched over the weekend. If you’ve never seen the movie and plan on catching it one of these days, stop reading NOW.
As the story unfolds we find our gallant IMF team in a Dubai hotel. They need to get to the servers in order to gain control of the building security systems, but the security is so “military grade” they cannot quickly hack it. What to do? The only path is to climb outside of their hotel to the server room several floors above them. Where is this room? On floor 130. So they cut out the glass, but how to scale a glass building? With electronic sticky gloves, of course. So Tom goes out at least 1000 feet above an unforgiving desert floor to scale the wall. But wait. There’s an approaching dust storm. Better hurry. But wait. The gloves begin to malfunction. He muscles it along, breaking through a window and getting the job done. Now he has to get back, but the gloves have gone completely kaput, so he grabs some nylon strapping, racing down the outside of the building. But wait. The strapping isn’t sufficiently long to get him to his room. So with the dust storm coming, he does a little swinging then flies toward the opening where his colleague hope to catch him. But wait. He slams into the wall below the window which should lead to certain death. But wait. One of his colleagues grabs him by the ankle and the team pulls him to safety.
I like the forward momentum of this scene, but I have to say, about halfway through, I felt like I had landed in the middle of Ginsu Knife commercial. “But wait! There’s more!” And each time the suspense artificially cranked up, the scene lost some of the power it could have retained by staying with its key elements. Climbing outside a glass tower over 1000 feet in the air has all the makings of a terrifying activity. Why not explore that terror more fully, the distance to the ground, the wind knocking him around, his struggle to gain a foothold. Instead, by adding more elements, we lost the moment.
My take aways from the scene?
- Be sure I’ve taken full advantage of a scenes key elements before I start adding more complications
- Don’t get carried away with the complications, unless I’m shooting for comedy, rather than suspense.