We have learned that screenwriting is a visual activity, different from novels or any other writing media. And we have talked about this distinction in great details in a previous post: Writing a Movie Scene.
Therefore we know that every scene in a script must be there to serve a purpose that pushes the story forward.
But this is not as easy as it sounds, because sometimes we get carried away by that beautiful writing element or idea in our head that we can not, at first glance, see that those dear scenes and dialogue we love are completely useless to the story.
So the best practice is to test every scene in your script for these features explained below:
The Scene’s Three-Act Structure
We know how to apply this in our general story, but what most writers ignore is that the three-act structure also applies to each scene of your script.
Your scene needs its own set-up that introduces us to the anticipated action and the characters to perform this action – this is Act One. Then we complicate this action along the way through Act Two, and finally, a climax and conclusion that takes us to a different place with the story from where we were at the beginning of that scene – just like our usual Third Act.
Motion is Key
So, like we may have observed with the three-act structure, motion is key in every scene. Not just in the physical sense of transposing things within a scene or combat, but in relation to the theme.
Is your character making a choice or action that potentially highlights or moves the themes in your story forward? Are they interacting with the environment in a visual way? Even if the scene relies on stillness and silence, give us the motivation behind that inactiveness and that stillness or silence must move the story forward, always.
It usually takes the shape of a funnel to arrive at the reason the scene exists. That is, start with a wide base to introduce your scene and use your complication to slowly funnel down to the reason your scene exists – also known as the point.
The Point is that new piece of information your scene reveals. When you watch a movie and scenes feel dragged or pointless, it is often because no new information is shown.
Finally, what is at Stake?
It is one thing to reveal a piece of information, and it is another for it to actually matter. The gear that makes an information matter in your story is the stake behind it. What could be the result of the revelation of this new information brought to bear? You do know the age-old game of action and reaction?
However, it is important that every scene has a stake that relates to the protagonist’s overall goal. If there are no consequences after the fact – then the information in the scene is useless.
When at even one of these features are lacking in a scene – Act structure, motion, the point and the stake – what you have left is an idea you should either cut off or re-write.
Photo by Jared Rice