Secrets Of Writing Better Scenes

Bill Martel discusses ways to improve your scenes.

Scenes are the the building blocks of screenplays. Each one functions as a self contained dramatic unit and should contain a beginning, middle and an end. Feature films usually have between 50 and 60 scenes, which averages to just under two pages per scene.

Make sure all your scenes are necessary to telling your story. If a scene was removed, would your story fall apart? Cool scenes can’t just be added for their coolness. They must pace your story and propel it. Each scene must resonate with the central theme of your story.

Almost every scene should contain the protagonist or antagonist. This creates conflict, tension and suspense and ensures you haven’t drifted off in a tangent.

Don’t dawdle in your scenes unless you’re creating suspense. Start late and leave early. Not every detail needs to be explained to your audience. They can mentally fill in the gaps.

Make each scene entertaining. This is the key reason audiences flock to the movie theatres, so give them what they want. Such scenes are those water cooler moment.

Remove generic scenes we’ve seen numerous times in other movies. Discover unique ways to deliver generic information. How else could  a first date be set other than a restaurant? Shooting range, swingers party, church, swimming pool?

See-saw the energy levels of your scenes. Although the tension should ratchet to a pinnacle before dropping to the all is lost moment, the energy is not a smooth line.  It’s called the tense and release principle.

Change the source of excitement in each scene. First it could be action, then drama, then laughter, then a meditative moment. Prolonging a single source of excitement, such as an extended chase scene will bore your audience.

Add unexpected reversals. Subvert your genre while remaining true to it. Make them unexpected but inevitable.

Add an interesting or exotic location. See if you can avoid the big city skyscraper, small town bar or rural barnyard.

Add contrast between the characters in each scene, particularly if they have opposing points of view or hate each other. If they agree on a plan, make sure they disagree on finer details.

Add variety to scenes. Look at the scene preceding it and rotate the tone, action, dialog and drama.

Pace your story beats. Ensure there is enough plot to carry each scene.

Have one main introduction for each character. Sure they can evolve, but make their dramatic function consistent.

Add set pieces and high concept scenes every 10 pages if you can. Give the audience something they haven’t seen before. These scenes will probably end up in your trailer lasting 2′ 30″.

Set the limits of believability in your world and don’t transcend them. Otherwise you’ll risk losing your audience.

Avoid contrivances. Each surprise should be organic to the story. Add secrets and mystery to scenes.

Give us unexpected responses and emotions to a standard situation.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. hanskealoha says:


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