Breaking the Scene

’ve been meaning to rant on this for a couple of weeks now, but someone reminded me of it over the weekend. I’m wrestling with the concept of using narrative where necessary, and dialogue where necessary, and keeping my beats from shattering tight conversations. I’m also trying to impart this knowledge to my students and my editing clients.

One wonders why it’s even necessary to give serious thought to the placement of all three, that they should all come into play naturally. Sometimes, though, they really fight for position, to the detriment of the piece.

Consider, if you will, the first couple of minutes of this season’s opening episode from Yu-Gi-Oh GX:

JADEN (offscreen)

Here we are, year two at Duel Academy. Somehow, I passed all my finals and I’m chilling in the Slifer Red dorm again.

SYRUS (offscreen)

Jaden, uh, who you talking to?

JADEN (offscreen)

Well…my fans, I guess. But maybe they should just watch for themselves.

Fifty-four episodes in, this is the first time any character has narrated GX, and you can tell from Syrus’ interruption that it was done intentionally. But Jaden says he’s going to let us watch for ourselves, dropping us into the action.

CROWLER

Keep up, you Swedish meatball! They’re almost here!

BONAPARTE

I’m French, you imbecile! Pardone moi for not having longer legs! Besides, what’s the rush about?

CROWLER

I told you. The freshmen! Their boat is arriving as we speak.

BONAPARTE

So, big whoop! Just cause you’ve been promoted to school chancellor, all of a sudden you care?

My roommate and I, both longtime Yu-Gi-Oh fans who followed it into this spin-off, both groaned. We understood exactly why this was a problem. Apparently, someone (no idea whether it was a translator, adaptor, or Takahashi-sensei himself) decided that your average ten year old who watched last season couldn’t figure this one out for himself/herself, because…

JADEN (offscreen)

Yep, you heard right. Crowler’s head of the school now, and that short stocky balding guy is his new sidekick, Vice Chancellor Bonaparte. Now, these two-

SYRUS (offscreen)

Uh, Jaden, you’re narrating again.

JADEN (offscreen)

Uh…right. Sorry

It’s the last time Jaden interrupts with his narration, but at this point you realize you’ll feel no sympathy when another character manages to shove Jaden (the main character) out of the picture for a few episodes down the road. His interruption to attempt to tell us something that Crowler and Bonaparte will be telling us soon has completely distracted us from Crowler’s quest to greet new freshman Aster Phoenix (the whole point of the scene).

It’s really a great example of why you have to be careful with your placement and balance of narative, dialogue, and beats. (Granted, beats in this case are handled entirely by the art.)

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