Ask my wife (and Quentin’s mom) and she’ll tell you how I feel about “multi-tasking”: in my experience and observations, in most cases it merely results in a multitude of missions being completed in a mediocre manner. That’s because you’re juggling, trying to slay several tasks in real-time. Something’s bound to suffer—and usually all of it, to varying degrees. In writing, however, we are fortunately allowed the luxuries of rumination and time-shifting. You can create in focused layers and eventually build scenes out to great effect without diminishment of your prior work. You can, in short, striate a scene to make it sing.
In this week’s Rated Q review of Sonic the Hedgehog, we highlight one of our favorite scenes/set pieces in which the titular alien hedgehog—stricken by loneliness and longing in what’s essentially a “found family” film—plays baseball all by his lonesome on a little league diamond where he likes to watch kids practice America’s pastime from the treeline. He’s envious of these kids, the friendships forged on the field, the camaraderie of the dugout, the cheering parents they get to go home with whether in victory or defeat.
This melancholy is skillfully infused in and ultimately underscored by way of a scene that’s actually quite thrilling and fun and delivers on the promise of the premise in a story in which the protagonist is a supersonic whirling dervish: Sonic is so damn fast that he can pitch the ball, outrun it to the plate to take a hack, swat it into the night sky, zip out to left to flub the fly, throw it back to home plate, meanwhile sprinting around all the bags and sliding in just under the tag—applied by himself, of course—for a completely unassisted one man inside-the-park home run. He leaps to his feet, basking in imagined glory until the quietude and empty stands revive reality… he’s painfully alone, as always. What happens next is something we can all relate to, young or old—he externalizes his internal pain by beginning to aggressively run the bases over and over, cutting a groove through the basepaths and building up a crackling field of blue lightning kinetic energy like an overcharged capacitor until it all explodes in a massive electromagnetic pulse so powerful that it knocks out electricity in the Pacific northwest and disables a geosynchronous satellite. It is this EMP blast that compels Pentagon brass to call in the big bad—Doctor Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey in a triumphant return to the rubberface ways of yesteryear).
Look at everything accomplished by this single scene: it gives the audience a fun, dynamic action set piece that exploits the powers of the protagonist. It conveys the character’s inner turmoil, his loneliness and desire to find a tribe. And it also acts as a major plot catalyst, catapulting the story forward and ultimately introducing the antagonist into the fray—all this, in a single scene.
It of course isn’t always possible to make every single scene accomplish this much—but this, folks, is what we as writers should be constantly striving for: scenes that not only advance plot but illuminate character and thrill the audience while doing so.