Drama­tists advise each other to “enter late and leave early.”

That means take the dra­matic focal point or pur­pose of a given scene, and move the “cut” or “fade in” — the entrance — as close to that point as pos­si­ble. Elim­i­nate the preamble.

Then, exit the scene as soon as you’ve accom­plished the dra­matic moment. Don’t tie up the lose ends and don’t spell out the ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Let the audi­ence fill in the gaps between one scene and the next.

This empha­sizes the drama by cut­ting out the “bor­ing bits.” And it works. But  almost no one ever men­tions the impor­tance of rit­ual to this process.

Because a rit­ual is a defined process, one can enter into the mid­dle of one and have per­fect ori­en­ta­tion around what’s going on — what hap­pened before enter­ing the scene and what to expect next. Expec­ta­tions that can then be har­nessed for sus­pense and/or sub­verted for surprise.

And rit­ual offers the same help for leav­ing a scene early: the audi­ence already knows how the rit­ual is sup­posed to end. So the writer doesn’t have to show you, or he can high­light the dra­matic depar­ture from the ordi­nary by fore­ground­ing how the end­ing dif­fers from expec­ta­tion. Brides are sup­posed to walk out of the church mar­ried to the man they met at the altar, so run­ning away from the altar with a crazy man that showed up halfway through the cer­e­mony (like in the grad­u­ate) is pretty dra­matic.

Here’s a great video exam­ple of John August edit­ing a new­bies script and apply­ing exactly this principle:

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The rit­ual, in this case, is check­ing into a hotel. We’ve all done it, we know how that rit­ual starts and ends — so why show all of it?

For adver­tis­ers, enter­ing a rit­ual late and leav­ing it early lets you squeeze more story into less air time. Like this Clorox ad:

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The entire ad is built around a rit­ual that is then sub­verted to make a point. And that would be cool enough if it was just a typ­i­cal 30-second ad, but if you look at the time­line on the video, it’s actu­ally a 15-second spot. Clorox com­pressed the ad into half the typ­i­cal time­frame, allow­ing them to com­bine two of these style ads — two full story arcs — into a 30-second ad-space.

Enter Late and Leave Early Through Ritual!


  1. Grimey on 11.15.2012

    Enter late, leave early” is actu­ally good advice for Thanks­giv­ing at the in-laws …

    cool post Mr. Sex­ton … the writ­ing doc­tor doing a script dis­sec­tion was an excel­lent teach­ing lesson.

    … “And Away We Go.”

  2. Dan Brown on 12.17.2012

    Hey Jeff,

    Awe­some arti­cle with some really inno­v­a­tive con­tent. I’ve never heard of using rit­u­als to prove your point in a shorter amount of time .. will have to try this out!

    You’ve also got a really nice site here so I signed up for your newslet­ter :)
    Dan Brown´s last blog post ..The #1 Mis­take In Inter­net Marketing

  3. Jordan Riggle on 12.30.2012

    Great post!
    Rit­u­als are stereo­types for actions. By play­ing with the nor­mal forms and cre­at­ing ten­sion or believ­abil­ity through expec­ta­tions, we writ­ers can har­ness the enor­mous power of our audience’s imag­i­na­tions.
    It doesn’t mat­ter whether you writer fic­tion, non-fiction, or commercial…stereotypes and rit­u­als are there for our use!
    Thanks for the timely reminder Jeff!

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