Scenes: How Many And How Long In Your Screenplay?

This is a point of contention among many screenwriters. How many scenes should your script contain and how long should each script be?

The short answer is that there isn’t a correct answer. This isn’t arithmetic. In a typical script of around 110 pages, I’ve read scripts with as many as 150 scenes and as few as 70. Scene number depends on the genre and pacing of your script.

Faster-paced scripts tend to have a higher scene count and shorter scenes. For instance, action scripts with car chases may have scenes as short as a few lines. Drama scripts which take more time exploring the emotional crux of your story may run longer, upwards of 2 pages.

Master scenes should ideally function as discrete dramatic units with a beginning, middle and end. They should advance plot, explore theme or reveal character or character interaction. Ideally all three.

Linking or interstitial scenes can get away with it. The same applies to “relief” scenes, an emotional break the audience needs to catch its breath after a high octane roller-coaster ride or poignant dramatic moment. Keep these scenes as sparse and short as possible.

Readers aren’t overly concerned with short scenes. They often contain establishing shots. However, if your scenes are longer than 1-2 pages, they may be considered too long.

Part of this is a production issue. If a crew shoots 5 to 10 pages per day, they don’t want to cut a scene in half. However, it could be a storytelling issue.

If a scene is running at 10 pages, you may have entered too early or there may be too many story beats or concepts in the scene. There may be unnecessary prosaic description, or the writer may simply be repeating or over explaining their story. Even worse, they may be digressing from the main story line.

Long scenes often lack the tightness that great scripts demand. Readers’ eyes meander and their minds wander. Get in late and leave early. No point in lingering. If your scene demands 3 pages, then so be it. However, keep such scenes to a minimum and be prepared to defend your choices if a script editor challenges their length.

If you’re concerned about your scene count or length, it may be wise to break your script down into SEQUENCES. Sequences convey a concept via a group of related scenes. Defining the purpose of each sequence will help writers adjust their scene length and count.

Typically, feature films contain around 10 sequences. The total number of scenes in acts 1 and 3 should be similar to the number of scenes in act 2.

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