As you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey, do your best to keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward or not. I know it’s tempting to share the intimate details with friends and family or even strangers, but keep your business to yourself.
We’re studying a scene from Dexter, Season 7 Episode 7.
Dexter, angry that Hannah’s latest victim died in his apartment, asks Hannah how she killed him.
How did you do it?
Is it really important?
Is life in prison important?
When Hannah finally answers she tells the truth.
I’m never going to prison. Price liked to chew on his pens.
The last one had a little something on it, completely undetectable.
Another section of the script where Dexter responds to a question with a question is the break between Beat 2 and Beat 3.
Hannah attempts to make Dexter aware they have a ‘spiritual connection’, to draw him in:
I could feel you watching me while I was being interrogated. You saw the whole thing didn’t you?
But Dexter refuses to go with her, still needing more information before he commits to this spiritual partnership, to this bond Hannah is convinced they share. Dexter responds to her question with a completely unrelated question – a question that pierces deep:
Is it true about your husband? Did you kill him because you didn’t want a family?
Hannah answers this question, telling the truth. It’s as though she knows what Dexter needs, and she’s willing to make herself vulnerable to him, to allow herself to be known. She’ll do anything to draw him in to her world, even tell him the truth.
It was the opposite. I wanted a family, and he didn’t.
He threatened to leave me unless I got an abortion.
Hannah also answers Dexter’s next question directly:
What happened to the baby?
It was a miscarriage. Sometimes life subtracts. Sometimes it adds…
So what do we see here? Hannah answers truthfully when she believes doing so will draw Dexter towards her.
And when Dexter refuses to be drawn in, refuses to give up power, he bats the question away with a question of his own.
Questions are part of the power play between characters.
Hannah’s next and final question is a rhetorical one, which she answers herself, not giving Dexter the chance to bat it away, she answers for him in order to draw him into their spiritual bond:
Do you see what just happened? We were looking out for each other…
In the next post I’ll consider the goals and needs of both characters as they enter this Climactic scene.
We’ve been studying Season 7 Episode 7 – CHEMISTRY.
(For a scene-by-scene breakdown of the episode click here.)
This is the episode’s longest scene at 3 mins.
To read the dialogue click here.
When we deconstruct it we see 5 major beats. We also see a clear ‘to and fro’ of power.
Here’s a summary:
Dexter enters angry that Hannah’s latest victim died in his (Dexter’s) apartment. He asks her how she killed him. Hannah disarms Dexter by answering his question.
We could say the power holder at the start of the beat is Dexter, but at the end of the beat, Hannah.
Dexter confesses he got rid of some evidence which would have incriminated Hannah. Hannah thanks him.
Power holder: Shared.
Hannah says she could ‘feel’ Dexter watching her when she was being interviewed by the police. She tries to draw him into an awareness of a spiritual, supernatural bond. Dexter refuses to go there.
Power holder: Dexter.
Dexter needs to know if the story he heard about Hannah is true. Did she kill her husband because he wanted a family? Hannah again disarms him.
Power holder: Hannah.
Hannah tries again to draw Dexter in to an awareness of their deep, spiritual connection. This time she succeeds. Dexter is overwhelmed by her intoxicating power and the sexual ‘chemistry’ between them reaches its inevitable climax.
Power holder: Shared.
The shared power at the climax of this scene is echoed in Hannah’s line:
‘We were looking out for each other.’
So, the to and fro of power goes like this:
Dexter – Hannah – Shared – Dexter – Hannah – Shared
The same sequence, repeated. Clearly the scene is in two distinct ‘acts’. Interesting.
So where is the scene’s ‘midpoint’ ?
It must be at the end of beat 2, when Hannah thanks Dexter for eradicating evidence for her. When you watch the scene there’s a definite change of pace here. It isn’t easy to see in the text, but when we watch the scene in action this section slows down to a near standstill. Hannah takes a huge breath and a pause before she whispers her ‘Thanks.’
Then, when Dexter dismisses his protective act as nothing ‘it only took a minute’ Hannah attempts to reel Dexter in closer, draw him into their spiritual connection. Act 2 of the scene starts here and the power sequence is repeated. However, Dexter refuses to be drawn in to Hannah’s spiritual connection, needing to know more, Hannah gives him what he wants, and finally, she’s got him in her arms.
Although Hannah wins the final beat’s power struggle I suggest power is shared at the end of the scene because both characters are where they want to be. Both have achieved their goals. (We’ll study their needs and goals in another post).
Do you agree? What else do you notice about this scene? What other devices have the writers used ?
(To read the scene click here).
This is how the black comedy works:
- Many characters exist in an organization. Someone explains the rules and logic by which the system operates in great detail.
- Many of these characters, including the hero, go after a negative goal that involves killing someone or destroying something.
- Each believes strongly in the goal and thinks what he is doing makes complete sense. In fact, it is totally illogical.
This is a short extract from the section on Black Comedy from John Truby’s brilliant book – Anatomy of Story (p135)
“In good stories the hero has a single overriding goal that he pursues with greater and greater intensity.”
- John Truby, Anatomy of Story p87
How does the editor & director decide which snippets of scenes to include in the ‘previously on…’ bit ?
Remember it’s Season 7 Episode 7.
So…previously on Dexter…
1. OPEN with the slaughter of the Columbian drug cartel members, murdered by Isaak Sirco.
2. CUT TO: Isaak Sirko in jail assuring Dexter that his imprisonment doesn’t mean their war is over.
3. CUT TO: Nadia, terrified, warning Joey not to get involved with the Koshka brotherhood.
4. CUT TO: George of the Koshka Brotherhood asks Joey to lose the blood evidence that’s keeping Isaak Sirko in jail. Joey agrees in exchange for Nadia’s freedom.
5. CUT TO: Dexter flicking through ‘Love on the Run’ – Sal Price’s true crime book about the Wayne Randall killings – and Hannah McKay.
Dexter asks Deb what was Price doing at the depot? Deb says he heard they were digging up more victims and he asked if he could see the case files for his new book about Hannah.
Dexter reminds us, with an internal thought, “I fudged the blood report.”
6. CUT TO: Sal Price with Deb at a restaurant showing her his blood report which proves Hannah is a killer.
Debs says “If that’s true we’re totally fucked because we gave her immunity.”
7. CUT TO: Dexter asks Hannah how her husband died. Hannah says ‘Heart attack.”
Dexter’s internal thought tells us “I know she killed her husband, I can feel it.”
8. CUT TO: a web page about Aconite – a highly poisonous wild plant. Reading the webpage Dexter tells us, internal thought again, ‘It causes a heart attack.’
9. CUT TO: Hannah on Dexter’s kill table with Dexter’s shiny silver blade to her throat. Hannah looks Dexter in the eye and says: “Do what you gotta do.”
10. CUT TO: Dexter and Hannah, fucking.
So, what are we reminded of?
1. Dexter has a new lover, Hannah McKay, and is covering up for her. Season Main Plot.
2. Writer Sal Price is on to Hannah as a serial killer. Episode Main Plot.
3. Isaak Sirko isn’t finished with Dexter. Season sub-plot.
4. Joey tries to save his sex trafficked girlfriend from the Koshka Brotherhood by making a deal to lose evidence. Season sub-plot.
5. Hannah has immunity for the Wayne Randall killings. Season sub-plot.
So, we open with a reminder of the Season’s Main Plot. Next, we have the Episode’s Main Plot. Then 3 season’s sub-plots.
Season Main Plot, Episode Main Plot, sub-plot, sub-plot, sub-plot.
A pattern worth noting.
What’s surprising is the overall series Main Plot – will Dexter get caught? – is not set-up in the opening sequence.
We have to wait until scene 48 when we get 27 seconds of Captain Maria LaGuerta alone, studying files in her home, hot on Dexter’s tail.
Next week, Crafting an Episode part 6. Structure in Detail.
PDF scene breakdown here.
- Out of 50 scenes, 38 have 2 characters (duologues).
- 2 further scenes have 3 people, but only 2 people actually talk (duologue).
- Scene 49 is 1 character reacting to another character’s Voice on tape (duologue).
- So, actually 41 out of 50 scenes are duologues!
- 3 scenes have 1 character and are less than 10 seconds.
- ONLY 1 full scene has just 1 character & sets up the MAIN PLOT (27 secs).
- 2 scenes have 3 talking characters.
- 2 scenes have 5 characters.
- 1 scene has 6 characters.
- The Midpoint scene is a discussion on the nature of murder.
Read the full scene by scene breakdown here:
Here is a list of scenes, their length and which characters are in each scene.
The first character is often the one driving the scene, but not always.
Check out who dominates the sequence of scenes building up to the Climax – the two most important women in Dexter’s life: Deb and Hannah.
Season 7 Episode 7:
- 1.51 Hannah + Dexter
- 2.06 Deb + Sal Price
- 1.24 Hannah + Dexter + 1 extra Biker
- 0.44 Dexter + Hannah
- 1.37 Dexter + Sal Price
- 1.15 LaGuerta + Deb
- 1.39 Dexter + Deb
- 0.33 Dexter, Batista and Masuko
- 0.58 LaGuerta, Batista, Masuko, Joey, Deb + Dexter
- 0.9 LaGuerta + Deb
- 0.12 Batista, Joey, Masuko, Dexter + 1 extra Cop
- 0.42 Batista, Joey, Masuko, Dexter + 1 extra Cop
- 0.48 Batista + Joey
- 0.34 Dexter + Deb
- 0.52 Deb + Sal Price
- 0.53 Joey + Nadia
- 0.24 Isaak Sirco, George + Jurg
- 1.14 Deb + Hannah’s dead husband’s sister
- 1.20 Hannah + Price
- 0.12 Price + Dexter
- 0.59 Dexter + his dad.
- 0.58 Joey + George
- 2.51 Dexter + Hannah (MIDPOINT)
- 0.15 Deb + Hannah’s dead husband’s sister
- 0.33 Deb + Lab Technician
- 0.33 Deb + Hannah’s dead husband’s sister
- 1.21 Deb + Price
- 0.34 Hannah + Price
- 1.30 Dexter + Dad
- 2.00 Price + Hannah
- 2.38 Isaak + Dexter
- 2.11 Dexter + Price
- 0.19 Joey + Jamie
- 0.36 Dexter + Batista + Joey
- 1.16 Deb + Dexter
- 0.16 Hannah + Dexter
- 0.12 Dexter + Hannah
- 0.10 Deb + Hannah
- 0.11 Dexter + Hannah
- 1.15 Deb + Hannah
- 0.02 Dexter
- 0.36 Hannah + Deb
- 0.08 Hannah
- 0.04 Dexter
- 3.00 Dexter + Hannah (CLIMAX)
- 0.51 Joey + Batista
- 0.25 Masuko + Deb
- 0.27 Maria LaGuerta
- 0.29 Deb + Hannah’s V.O
- 1.34 Dexter + Hannah + Deb
Read the full scene breakdown here: DEXTER – Season 7 Episode 7
When I watched The Graduate on stage in London’s West End I saw what was, for me, the perfect ending.
Why was it perfect?
Somehow the writer had managed to bring me to a point where tears were rolling down my cheeks. Tears of empathy, of pity, of pain.
But then, as the tears flowed, and I thought my heart was going to break, came a terrific one-liner, which made me burst out in ferocious laughter, making the tears flow even harder.
Was I laughing or crying? I didn’t know! Both! At the same time!
Screenwriting teacher Chris Soth, in his Million Dollar Screenwriting podcasts, discusses how the hero, as a direct result of understanding his inner need is able to either-
a) achieve his outward goal
b) discern that his original goal isn’t important after all.
Either way the character arc is complete.
John Truby splits ‘need’ into 2 categories: ‘psychological’ and ‘moral’.
Let’s break this down:
A psychological need is something the hero must achieve in order to stop causing harm to himself.
A moral need is something he must achieve in order to stop causing harm to others.
Truby says the best stories have both.
In order to realize these needs, for the subconscious to become conscious, the hero must have a revelation, either psychological, moral, or both.
However, it’s not always as simple as that.
In some stories the hero may be incapable of a revelation. For example, in The Godfather, Truby explains, the writers give the revelation to Kay, Michael Corleone’s wife (read Anatomy of Story for the full analysis.)
Truby explains how a hero should take new moral action to prove the change has taken place.
What about your hero? What is his psychological and moral need? Is he capable of having a revelation? Is he capable of change?
If so, what action does he take to prove it?
When step-outlining, we can use 2 techniques:
1. Put the do-er of the action first.
Skyler threatens to leave Walt.
By using this method you can see:
1. Who is driving the scene.
2. Who is driving the main plot.
3. Who is attacking your hero .
If your hero is often the object, coming under attack a lot, this is good! Heroes should be attacked !
2. Put your hero first.
Walt is threatened by Skyler.
Here the subject and object have switched. Walt is the hero so he always stays the subject – that is – first in the sentence, followed by the verb.
The verb ‘is threatened’ here is passive which tells us that Walt is passive in this scene, too. He is under attack. Of course, he doesn’t remain passive. He fights back. That’s what heroes do.
This method means we always:
1. See the story from the hero’s viewpoint.
2. See if our hero is active or passive.
3. See who is attacking our hero or who he is attacking.
It’s good to step outline both ways, to get a really clear picture of the to-and-fro of attack, defend, attack, defend, as your hero advances towards his goal.