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Home » Archives » November 2006 » Breakage
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11/06/2006: Breakage

Let's talk about act breaks again! Whee! I love this kind of analysis, don't you? It's amazing, all the little things that go into giving a show its own "feel."

I've talked before about how you want to break the act at the moment of maximum tension and danger. I love breaking an act in the middle of a scene. Someone has a gun (or a romantic ultimatum) to our hero's head and before she can do anything about it -- BAM -- there's a car commercial! The audience dives for their remote to skip the commercial, and rejoins the action where it left off, all shaky with concern.

However, some shows don't do this. There is an argument that breaking a scene in the middle gives the show a "soap opera" feel. Or that the audience feels manipulated. Or perhaps there's just a tradition that has evolved over the years of a show -- Gilmore Girls, for example, doesn't like to break an act this way, although I never heard a reason given. It simply didn't feel like the show. (Now that I really think about it, though, there may be a very good reason for not doing this on Gilmore Girls. The show is very much about the way things play out... the attenuation of awkward moments, the gradual realization, instead of the sudden chilling slam. To artificially punctuate those long scenes with an act break really might work against the mood of the show.)

If you're writing a spec of an existing show, this is another reason to study your produced example scripts and do whatever they do. If you're writing a spec pilot, you get to decide for yourself about the kinds of act breaks you want to write. Just make sure that you don't end an act on a moment of satisfied resolution. The scene can be over, but make sure the tension is still up in the air -- after all, someone can issue that romantic ultimatum and then exit, leaving our hero alone to contemplate it as we...


Lunch: fondue and broccoli at The Grove (big L.A. shopping destination -- I bought jackets.)


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