Scene Description Spotlight: “Basic Instinct”

April 21st, 2012 by

Let’s say you’re writing a sexy thriller. Per the concept of narrative voice, you should write scene description that is… well… sexy and thrilling. This approach paid off handsomely for screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who in 1992 wrote a spec script called “Basic Instinct” that sold for $3M, the highest amount paid for a spec script up to that time. Here is P. 1 of that script — all of it scene description:


It is dark; we don't see clearly. 

A man and woman make love on a brass bed. There are 
mirrors on the walls and ceiling. On a side table, atop 
a small mirror, lines of cocaine. A  tape deck PLAYS the 
Stones "Sympathy for the Devil."

Atop him... she straddles his chest... her breasts in his 
face. He cups her breasts. She leans down, kisses him...

JOHNNY BOZ is in his late 40's, slim, good-looking. We don't 
see the woman's face. She has long blonde hair. The CAMERA 
STAYS BEHIND and to the side of them.

She leans close over his face, her tongue in his mouth... she 
kisses him... she moves her hands up, holds both of his arms 
above his head.

She moves higher atop him... she reaches to the side of the 
bed... a white silk scarf is in her hand... her hips above his 
face now, moving... slightly, oh-so slightly... his face strains 
towards her.

The scarf in her hand... she ties his hands with it... 
gently... to the brass bed... his eyes are closed... tighter... 
lowering hips into his face... lower... over his chest... his 
navel. The SONG plays.

He is inside her... his head arches back... his throat white.

She arches her back... her hips grind... her breasts are high...

Her back arches back... back... her head tilts back... she 
extends her arms... the right arm comes down suddenly... the 
steel flashes... his throat is white...

He bucks, writhes, bucks, convulses...

It flashes up... it flashes down... and up... and down... and 
up... and...


Winter in San Francisco cold, foggy. Cop cars everywhere. 
The lights play through the thick fog. Two Homicide detectives 
get out of the car, walk into the house.

One could argue that it’s almost soft porn. But one damn thing is for sure: it’s effective writing. In a mere 301 words, the reader is already hooked and into the plot. You’ve got sex. You’ve got murder. One page and the reader gets the movie right away: sexy thriller.

This is yet another example of why it’s so important to understand the concept of Narrative Voice. The attitude you take to writing your scene description should reflect the ‘voice’ of your story’s invisible narrator, and that style needs to underscore the genre you’re writing.

By the way, the movie Basic Instinct went on to gross $350M worldwide.

[Originally posted March 11, 2010]

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