Seeding a Scene (i.e. putting things in a scene to reincorporate later)
Start with what appears superficially to be a regular status quo scene, (i.e. detectives interrogating suspect in “The Usual Suspects”) but “seed” that entire first scene with elements that will turn up again and be important later on in the story. These seeds will later grow into the full-fledge fruiting plants of important plot points later on in the story. I think this is one of the real tests of a writer's skill. Be careful. If the seeds are too obvious the audience will see the climax coming from a mile away, thus be deprived them of the surprise and thrill they need to make the climax actually feel climactic.
If you seed a story too subtly or not at all, the ending will seem completely unconnected to the body of the story, contrived and out of nowhere.
One of the major problems with some films is that the screenwriter seeds them properly to give a good climax, but when translated by a director to actual film, the seeds are put too far into the background to stand out to the audience or have been edited out by someone who thought the seeding scene “lacked action.” Either that or the seeds are made so obvious that the scene they're in is all seed with no narrative dirt to put the seeds into.
Of course it's unfair to blame producers who don't understand seeding well enough. Sometimes such scenes just end up on the cutting room floor to try to make a film play more quickly. Some films become nearly incomprehensible because of this.
Most of these seeding malfunctions though, occur because some writers are incompetent in constructing narratives. People read Robert McKee's “Story” and think that it is a prescription for how to write a screenplay. Reading this book will not magically turn you into a great writer. Real writers know that everyone has their own “secret writing sauce” for making their stories turn out so compulsively readable. It is not something that can be easily reproduced by reading a book, but rather the culmination of years of false starts and habitual writing.
So-called writing gurus are really good at making up whole stacks of “rules” all good stories must adhere to, but what films that you like are successful for following rules? There has to be something that breaks with convention to catch one’s attention. All these rules are just theories anyway. There is no science or math to it and trends in fiction change as fashion does.
The most important thing really is just having a character the audience can engage with. All plot will naturally arise out of the character's conflict within him or herself or with his or her social or physical environment.
The best story climaxes and surprises are ones that feel “surprising yet inevitable.”
Surprising, yet inevitable is the holy grail when it comes to story telling. It is a thin line to tread. One must create plot twists that surprise the audience, but when the audience thinks back to the rest of the story it must all make sense. “Of course that man was the real spy all along! How couldn’t I have noticed it before! It all makes sense now!”
When this happens the audience feels delight. Within the strict parameters of fiction, as in magic shows, we love being tricked and fooled. It’s actually fulfilling. As an audience member I like it best when I leave a movie feeling fulfilled in this way. Like a magic show, the tricks are pleasing because the audience enters into a contract with the magician. They are there with the expectation that they will be tricked. You go into a magic show, ready to experience illusion. You go looking for something “magical,” something different than your everyday world. Getting tricked by some random person outside this special place is frightening or annoying, but within this world, the trick is controlled and pleasurable.
Of course the more experienced and in tune to narrative conventions a person gets, having processed more fiction, the harder it is for that person to be genuinely surprised by a story in a such a pleasing fashion. It's a bit ironic. The more stories one consumes for pleasure, the less likely one is to find the stories surprising and therefore pleasurable. The fewer pleasurable stories, the more one must read like an addict consuming more and more of a drug, to find ones that provide that satisfying experience.
However, when a story does manage to surprise you this way it is so pleasurable and delightful, it keeps you out looking for more.