Saturday, January 3, 2015

Take Out the Dull Parts

A great story is life with the dull parts taken out.--Alfred Hitchcock

I came across that quote in my notes from a workshop that James Scott Bell led at the 2011 ACFW Conference. Hitchcock gave us a surefire way to achieve great storytelling: Just cut out the dull parts. The dull parts of life have...
  • No conflict
  • No internal pressure
  • No trouble (Scenes that depict "Happy people in happy land.")
  • No fear
On that last point, Bell said, "Remember there is a continuum of fear, from minor worry to sheer terror. Fear of the unknown and fear of the known. In this respect, every scene in a great story involves some kind of fear. If not, it's dull. So it has to go."

That seems rather harsh, don't you think?

Well, think back to one of the classic films of Christmas that have been running in recent weeks: A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, or (my favorite) that 1950s nostalgia trip, A Christmas Story. Remember an iconic scene from any of those movies. Now ask yourself, Did that scene have any of the 4 "dull parts" that James Scott Bell listed? Probably not.

Those classic movies may have had some dull parts, originally, but they wound up on the director's cutting-room floor. That's what made them great. 


Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Editorial Director of Discipleship Resources & Curriculum for Warner Press, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

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