Enter Late, Leave Early

I rewrote a scene three times yesterday, before I got it right. Each time I started it, I knew a page and a half in it was just plain boring. There were interesting things discussed, but it was pedestrian after the kind of action and reaction I’d had up ’til that point. Then I started about five seconds before the real action, and I had it right.

The very next day, I read the opening lecture of an online workshop I’m taking by (the fabulous) Jordan Dane, and she spoke about the screenplay principle of Enter Late, Leave Early (or ELLE). Ah ha! Yes, I’d figured it out myself, but how many times had I reinvented the wheel? Too many, I’m sure. Knowing why it wasn’t working for me, even though it was an instinctive thing, must help me in the future. Next time a scene isn’t working, I’m going to ask myself, are you starting late enough?

I was interested enough in the ELLE concept to google it, and I see it goes by Arrive Late, Leave Early as well. Not quite as nice for an acronym as Jordan Dane’s way of putting it, but the same concept. It is the way they film Law & Order, and why I love the show. Things move so fast, they pack far more into an episode. You can find articles on the concept here and here.

What about you? Do you arrive late, and leave early in your scenes, and do you also have that doh! moment when you figured something out instinctively, but then come across the solution written elegantly and concisely, and wonder why you didn’t think of it before?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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23 Responses to Enter Late, Leave Early

  1. Oh Michelle this is exactly what I need right now. I have one scene that’s going to lead onto an action scene but it’s just not going anywhere. It arrives early and hangs around by the buffet table with a paperbag leering at other scenes with a bit of celery stuck in between its teeth.

  2. Michelle says:

    LOLOL, Natalie. Show that scene the door, and make it come back in when the party is warmed up 🙂 .

  3. Misa Ramirez says:

    I have a scene just like that that I’ve been struggling with, but like you, I figured it out on my own. I’ll have to apply ELLE and see if it can help even more.


  4. spyscribbler says:

    Michelle, what a timely topic for me! I’ve been suddenly freaking out how to end a scene and how to transition to the next one. I don’t know why. It’s like one morning I woke up, and I’d completely forgotten how to do it!

  5. Edie Ramer says:

    Michelle, that’s probably what’s wrong with my “talky” scene. It should probably just be deleted. But there it does have stuff the reader needs to know.

    Oh, the dilemna. I’ll have to read it and see if there’s something I can do with it.

  6. Liz Kreger says:

    That’s probably the problem I’m having with my final chapters of my WIP. Just ain’t feelin’ the love. 😆 I have action going on but am concentrating too much on a secondary scene within the action scene.

    I’ll have to read it over again and see how it sounds.

  7. LaDonna says:

    Michelle, we’ve all have some valuable epiphanies this week in the writing arena! I discovered I started my WIP in the wrong place. The scene I wrote, while giving the reader a sense of place, isn’t necessary. Where I should start prompts some action.

    I really like this newer view I must say. Before, I assumed first drafts were destined to be POS’s. Now, I realize they can actually be pretty darn classy. 😆

  8. LaDonna says:

    Forgot to say, I LOVE your pic! It looks like my granddog, Skippy. 😎 He’s a wonder dog too!

  9. Michelle, I always try to keep this in mind when I write, but often find myself in the middle of something before I realize I need to go snipping and get to the good stuff. If *I’m* chomping at the bit to move forward, that’s a very good sign 🙂

    I’ve talked about it enough, and pointed out examples in movies, that my husband is very familiar with the idea now. Every time I tell him I’m stuck on a scene, he quizzes me on whether I’m starting too early, ending too late etc. D’oh, no sympathy, back to work! 😛

  10. Theresa says:

    For me, I’d say it depends on the scene and what I want to accomplish in the scene. If it’s an action scene, the start late and leave early gives it much more of an intense feeling.

    If its a reaction scene, or a GMC scene, I usually give myself more leeway.

    Love the pup in the blog. The picture reminds me of when I used to run around town with Luna in the back of the car sticking her head out the window. She has somewhat heavy jowls, and I used to get all these people who would pass us and point and laugh when they caught sight of her. I found out eventually, that all that loose skin of her jowls and cheeks was flapping in the wind. They said she looked like a cartoon. 😆

  11. Karin Tabke says:

    Fashionably late is one thing…but leaving early can be rude. It’s hard to find that balance isn’t it? I think if a scene begins with a solid cadence and escalates we’re on the right track, it’s when it sputters or begins with uneven steps that we have a problem. Or if the scene is chugging along and there is an abrupt departure, we have another problem. It’s hard too to step back as the writer and take serious stock of the scene.

    I usual know if a scene works tempowise, but sometimes it’s nice to have a fresh pair of eyes to take a look.

  12. Kath Calarco says:

    I’m not sure if I arrive early or leave late. Most times I don’t know if I’m coming or going. But I’ll say this, as writers we’re ALWAYS learning, even the multi-pubbed. It’s important to maintain the open mind to new ways, etc., otherwise you wither and die.

  13. Michelle says:

    Isn’t it great how as writers we can spark off each other, Misa? Hope you nail your scene.

  14. Michelle says:

    Pleasure, Spy. And I know that feeling. You look at the page and think, what do I do again?

  15. Michelle says:

    Edie, I think this only applies when you know something is off. Not every scene is a big action scene, but even in less intense scenes, maybe it helps to zero in on the core point of the scene and start just before that?

  16. Michelle says:

    Good luck, Liz. ELLE would be good for you, because your WIP is so action-filled.

  17. Michelle says:

    That’s fantastic, LaD. I’ll take an epiphany (of any type) any day 🙂 .

  18. Michelle says:

    LOL, Hayley, your husband sounds like a keeper 🙂 .

  19. Michelle says:

    Theresa, I can just imagine Luna, with a happy dog face, jowls flapping in the breeze.

  20. Michelle says:

    It is all about listening to that inner ear, isn’t it Karin? Usually we know when something is wrong, or off in a scene. I have learned to listen to that tiny alarm bell.

  21. Michelle says:

    I agree, Kath. Every day is a learning experience, just putting words on the page, let alone the fantastic information I get from the writing community I belong to.

  22. D.A. Riser says:

    Great post, Michelle. ELLE is tough. Do you think this is more a modern thing? I’ve been reading a book on creating unforgettable characters by Linda Seger and she talks about being cinematic. One of her points she makes is that 19th century writers eased into their stories. Today, books mimic movies. Action!

  23. Michelle says:

    D.A., I definitely think its a modern thing. With TV, video, computers, movies all accessible in your home, reading is just one option of many. Even 80 years ago, you maybe wanted to meander into the story (I’m guessing here, I can’t imagine reading the boring bits on purpose 🙂 ) but not anymore.

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