Scenes Technique #4
Use your theme to adjust the scenes
We have now approached Case Analysis with the film director’s artistic eye and the litigator’s cold analytical eye. What’s next? The teaser in Scenes Technique #3 promised that we would learn how to manipulate our scenes to reflect what we are trying to accomplish. In other words, we will apply our theme to adjust our scenes. Movies and novels have themes, too. The authors, screenwriters and film directors encourage their audiences to think and feel as the story warrants.
But, you say, cases may be stories, but they’re not fiction. As officers of the Court, we shouldn’t ‘manipulate’ our audience, the decision-maker. That would be unprofessional. Sorry, Pollyanna, dream on! We do precisely that every time we choose what witnesses to call to the stand, how we prepare them for their testimony, and what questions we ask them. “Manipulate” sounds harsh but only means “to control skillfully.” That sounds better and more professional, right?
Actually, you do your audience a favour when you analyze the possible evidence, edit out what you consider counter-productive, and then accentuate what helps your client. The other side does the same. All the decision-maker has to do is consider both sides and accept the most persuasive bits. Hopefully, from your case more than from theirs. In an adversary system, the better case should prevail. We will revisit this idea later, but in most cases, your task is not to present a perfect case but rather a better one than your opponent’s. Like the old saw when two of you are fleeing a hungry bear. You don’t have to outrun the bear (perfection) – just the other guy (relative outperformance).
With that in mind, how does your theme inform your scenes? Now we ask the more theoretical question, what persuades an audience? Let’s state a few principles and then leave the parsing and explanation to others.
To persuade, it is our view that,
1. A story should:
a. Hang together as a single plot line. This imperative eliminates ‘pleading in the alternative’, for the most part. If you must plead two positions, consider flipping the logic of your positions so that each plank reinforces the earlier ones.
b. That plot should be both believable and logical. True, people act in the strangest ways, and coincidences do occur. An explanation that ‘A led to B’ is usually more persuasive than ‘A and B both happened, but who knows why?’
2. The characters should:
a. Have motives, or reasons, to act as they do. Again, total serendipity may be one explanation, but a stated intention is usually more persuasive.
b. Be people who would likely act this way. If the decision-maker thinks about why a witness acted in a particular way, the answer should make sense within the bounds of what ordinary people usually do.
With that in mind, many of the scenes you can dream up will not feed your narrative as you want to present it. You have three choices to deal with that situation:
1. Cut the scene altogether.
2. Rephrase and reshoot the scene, so it helps your case more than it does as you wrote it. Basically, spin it better to suit your theme.
3. Keep the scene as is, and put up with the consequences. It may be necessary or unavoidable.
You have already considered possible scenes and how you will lead evidence to enact these scenes. You have tools available to adjust the scenes that make the cut, including selecting the witnesses and exhibits to present each scene and preparing the witnesses to show the scene in its best light. Just like the author, screenwriter and film director does.
This technique has you discuss or frame the scene. Why keep it in your story? What are you trying to accomplish? How does it fit?
With all that in mind, let’s consider our first version of the Goldilocks scenes from Scenes Technique #1. First, we must start with a theme. How about, ‘Our children are everyone’s responsibility.’ Similar to ‘It takes a village.’ The idea is that the community – including the Three Bears – must love, nurture and protect our children - Goldilocks.
· 9-year-old Goldilocks does, indeed, have two parents.
o This case may revolve around the parents, so it’s necessary to keep this as a distinct scene. You act for Goldilocks, so it’s tough to see you turn against her parents. A scene of a happy family makes sense to me.
· She lives on a farm on the outskirts of the forest.
o Everyone loves a peaceful farm family. Paint this as a quiet, pastoral life within a supporting, nurturing community.
· Her parents instructed her never to leave the yard without one of them by her side.
o Good parents give this warning, and good children obey it.
· One day, she was playing in the yard when a songbird drew her into the forest.
o Kids will be kids. No one’s perfect – even her parents only momentarily took their eyes off her. They trusted the community to protect her if something terrible happened.
· Goldilocks followed the bird ever deeper into the forest.
o Kids will be kids (again). The woods are not inherently dangerous.
· After a while, she lost touch with the bird and noticed she was quite lost.
o When she came to her senses, good training kicked in. She sought shelter.
· She panicked and tried to retrace her steps, but to no avail.
o Despite her best efforts, she was lost. The community had to step up and protect her, even in the woods.
In our next episode, we will examine how hard questions and bad facts influence our storytelling.
Exercise: examine several of the scenes you created in the previous exercises. How would you play these scenes out? How do they fit into your narrative?
No handbook is written about this technique, although one is under consideration.
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