Small Events and Tension in Storytelling

The following quotation comes from the director’s commentary on the DVD of “Doubt,” written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. Though it applies specifically to the difficulty of putting a ten-minute “tea scene” in a modern film, it applies equally well to writing fiction. Like literary fiction, the film “Doubt” is a highly character-driven piece. In fact, it is based on Shanley’s four-actor play by the same title. As such, it does not rely on heavy action scenes to keep the viewer’s interest. Rather, the plot is moved by smaller incidents and the effect these have on the characters:

“It’s funny, these tiny things have to be dealt with in the same way that a car crash and gun fire would be in another movie. Any event has significance – or should – when you’re telling a story, no matter how small: the pouring of a cup of tea, the spilling of tea and drying it off. Every one of them inspires a camera move, and every camera move keeps the scene alive.”