Screenwriting as scene-writing

November 3rd, 2014 by

Every time we sit down to write a script, we are faced with a scene. This can be a daunting task considering a script may have 60, 75, 90 scenes or more. In a very real way, screenwriting is at its core scene-writing.

Therefore it is essential for you to know how to handle writing scenes.

Beginning next Monday, November 10, I will be offering my 1-week online screenwriting course, Core VI: Scene. It is part of the 8-part Core curriculum which itself comprises the foundation of the screenwriting theory I teach in The Quest.

This class presents key guidelines to help writers develop a deeper understanding of scenes — what they are, how they function, and most importantly how to approach writing them.

* Learn six fundamental questions you should ask about every scene as you construct and write it.

* Put theory into practice by workshopping some of your own original scenes.

Six lectures written by Scott Myers.
Special insider tips.
24/7 daily forum interaction.
Workshop writing exercises with instructor and class feedback.
A 90-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members.

Plus you can workshop a logline and post it for feedback.

So go here and sign up now.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work: “Don’t Finish That Scene!”

October 28th, 2014 by

Let’s say you’re in the middle of writing a script – and it’s a slog. You’re finding it really tough to drag your ass onto the chair and start writing the next scene.

Well, let’s roll back the clock. What if yesterday, you hadn’t finished the previous scene? What if you got halfway through that scene, knew exactly where it needed to go to reach the end, but instead of completing it, you quit your writing session with the scene unfinished.

Now instead of starting the next day having to break a new scene, you have the easy task of finishing the scene from the day before.

Bada-bing, bada-boom, you knock out the ending to the scene, giving your mind and your fingers a chance to warm up — and now you’re ready to charge ahead.

So the trick is stop each writing session in the middle of a scene. That way you can start the next session with the ‘positive’ experience of finishing a scene.

This has been the inaugural edition of “Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work.”

[Originally posted September 23, 2008]

How to Write a Scene: Part 2

September 3rd, 2014 by

So yesterday, I blogged about the fact that at a fundamental level, screenwriting is scene-writing. What emerged in the post and comments is a kind of checklist to use when crafting a scene.

That brought to mind an interesting thread of events involving screenwriter John August. In 2007, John posted this on his blog:

One of the thing I admire most about Jane Espenson’s blog is that she talks very directly about the words on the page, giving names to techniques I use but never really think about. The two-percenter, for example.

So one of my goals for 2007 is to get a little more granular in my advice-giving, and talk less about Screenwriting and more about screenwriting — in particular, scene writing.

Spend a few years as a screenwriter, and writing a scene becomes an almost unconscious process. It’s like driving a car. Most of us don’t think about the ignition and the pedals and the turn signals — but we used to, back when we were learning. It used to flummox the hell out of us. Every intersection was unbelievably stressful, with worries of stalling the car and/or killing everyone on board.

It’s the same with writing a scene. The first few are brutal and clumsy. But once you’ve written (and rewritten) say, 500 scenes, the individual steps sort of vanish. But they’re still there, under the surface. It’s just that your instinct is making a lot of the decisions your conscious brain used to handle.

So here’s my attempt to introspect and describe what I’m doing that I’m not even aware I’m doing. Here’s How to Write a Scene.

Which led to this, an infographic. But that resulted in this:

Both versions are useful. The blog post is detailed; the infographic is handy. But screenwriter Zak Penn asked for something in-between:

Can you send me PDF of your scene writing checklist? Want to use when I speak to students, thought it was excellent.

It’s a good idea. So here’s the original post, slightly edited and reformatted to fit onto two pages you can print or email.

To wit, here it is:

John August Big write-scene

And you can download a PDF of the infographic here.

So another checklist, this one from a renowned Hollywood screenwriter. Which of these questions and scene-writing tips resonate most with you?

How to Write a Scene: Part 1

September 2nd, 2014 by

I just started a new semester teaching my college students. The class is called Master Screenwriting and in it, each writer will pound out the first draft of an original feature-length screenplay. Every week, we read aloud their pages, critique them, then brainstorm ways to make them better, and I use their scripts to make points about screenwriting theory. Plus each student covers a Black List script, researches a Hollywood studio or major production company, at least two Skype conversations with industry insiders, movie screenings… in other words, lots of learning, lots of fun.

In the process, these young writers discover a fundamental truth: Screenwriting is scene-writing. Last week, I ran through several key questions they should ask about each scene to help focus their writing and make sure their scenes move the story forward in an entertaining way.

Thus I was intrigued by something mafatty79 wrote in comments on a recent post featuring the movie Blade Runner:

Checkpoints for analyzing a scene:

1. T.E. – Transitional elements. Is there a way to make a transitional element interesting and additive to a story element (tone, theme, ambiance, etc,)

2. V.I. – Visually interesting. What about the action description is visually interesting? It can be a little thing, as with the origami folding in Blade Runner. Each scene, if possible, should have some big or little thing that is visually interesting and adds to story elements (tone, theme, ambiance, character revelation, etc.)?

3. C.U. – Character Uniqueness. What hint, or reveal, is there which teaches us something about a character?

4. A.C. – Action. What about the scene’s action is interesting/central to the story and moves it forward; what conflict or question is raised?

This got me thinking about crowd-sourcing tips about how to write a scene. So here we are. What do you think of these four checkpoints? I think they’re quite helpful. How about you?

And what do you consider when writing a scene? Do you have any goals in mind? Any techniques to help you write consistently strong scenes?

I’ve titled this post Part 1 because there’s a lot to be said on this subject. Let’s see what bubbles up in our conversation, maybe carry it over for another day or two.

What advice or concerns do you have about writing scenes?

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 1: Writing Scenes

June 16th, 2014 by

With every scene, you should ask yourself this question:

What is the scene’s Beginning, Middle, and End?

Just as we think of a story with three acts or movements, so each scene has its own tripartite structure. Therefore as we approach working out a scene, we need to think about what constitutes each of its three parts.

A master at this is writer-director James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets). From his wonderful movie Broadcast News, let’s look at how he introduces the three major characters in the story: Tom Grunick (William Hurt), Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), and Jane Craig (Holly Hunter). Brooks creates a story opening in which he juxtaposes the three characters as young people, selecting a revelatory moment in each of their lives that provides insight into what is at the core of their being. First Tom:

FADE IN

EXT. CITY STREET - DAY

A restaurant supply truck is curbside, near a small
restaurant. GERALD GRUNICK, forty-one, is closing the back
door of his truck, feeling good about the world, a common
state for him. He moves towards the cab of the truck and gets
inside as we SUPER:

KANSAS CITY, MO. - 1963

INT. TRUCK - DAY

As he sits down beaming over his recent good fortune... now we
REVEAL his twelve-year-old son, TOM, seated quietly beside him.
He seems a bit down. Gerald glances at his son.

GERALD
I don't know a recent Saturday I've
sold more. You didn't think I'd
sell that health restaurant, did you?

TOM
No. Not even you.

GERALD
Why so glum?

TOM
I don't know.

GERALD
(a beat)
Go ahead.

TOM
No, nothing. I've got a problem,
I guess.

GERALD
Were you bothering by those
waitresses making a fuss?

TOM
No. But, honest. What are you
supposed to say when they keep
talking about your looks? I don't
even know what they mean -- "Beat
them off with a stick."

Gerald stiffs a grin.

GERALD
You know, Tom, I feel a little
proud when people comment on your
looks. Maybe you should feel that
way.

TOM
Proud? I'm just embarrassed that
I like when they say those things.

GERALD
As long as that's your only problem
you're...

TOM
It's not.

He looks directly at his father and talks quietly, and sincerely.

TOM
I got my report card. Three Cs,
two Ds and an incomplete.

GERALD
Oh my. I see you studying so hard,
Tom. What do you think the problem is?

TOM
I'll just have to try harder. I don't
know. I will.
(talking himself
into it)
I will. I will. I will.

He shakes his head for emphasis, glad he's received this pep
talk from himself -- he hands the card to his father.

TOM
Thanks, Dad, this talk helped. Will
you sign it, please?

GERALD
(as he signs)
Would it help if I got you a tutor?

TOM
(suddenly hopeful)
That would be great.
(worried)
It better help. What can you do with
yourself if all you do is look good?

SUPER THE LEGEND -- "FUTURE NETWORK ANCHORMAN"

FADE OUT

Beginning: Tom unnerved about people’s reactions to his good looks.

Middle: Tom’s poor performance in school.

Ending: The father signs the report card and offers to get Tom a tutor.

Key note: Each beat in the scene has its own emotional center. The Beginning is Tom’s embarrassment about his good looks. The Middle is Tom’s despondence about his grades. The Ending is Tom’s elation about getting a tutor. As such, there is a flow of these emotions as Brooks takes us on a little psychological journey with an upbeat ending to transition us out of the scene and into the next, where he introduces Aaron:

FADE IN

BOSTON, MASS. - 1965

INT. HIGH SCHOOL - AUDITORIUM - DAY

AARON ALTMAN, looking almost preposterously young in his
graduation gown -- is delivering his valedictory. He is a
rare bread -- a battle-scarred innocent.

AARON
...and finally to the teachers of
Whitman High School, I don't have the
words to express my gratitude which
may have more to say about the quality
of the English Department here than
my own limitations...

He awaits a laugh and gets only the weird sound of collective
discomfort.

AARON
...that was, of course, not meant to
be taken seriously. A personal note.
I am frequently asked what the special
difficulties are in being graduated
from High School two months shy of my
fifteenth birthday. I sometimes
think it was the difficulties
themselves which enabled me to do it.
If I'd been appreciated or even tolerated
I wouldn't have been in such a hurry to
graduate. I hope the next student who
comes along and is able to excel isn't
made to feel so much an outcast. But
I'm looking forward to college; this is
the happiest day I've had in a long
time. I thank you and I forgive you.

This is very little applause.

ANGLE ON TEACHERS

MALE TEACHER
I'm always so confused by Aaron.
Is he brave and earnest or just
a conceited little dick-head?

BACK TO AARON AS WE SUPER: "FUTURE NETWORK NEWS REPORTER"

ANGLE ON STAGE

As Aaron walks to his seat past three full grown tough looking
semi-literate high school graduates.

YOUTH #1
Later, Aaron.

EXT. SCHOOL YARD - DAY

Clusters of graduates at the fence bordering the sunken school
yard looking down as the tough cap and gowners seen earlier
cuff Aaron around.

CLOSER IN

Aaron feeling from a blow -- his lip bleeding -- his teeth
covered with blood...as he gets to his feet. He is livid --
something primal triggered by this brutality.

AARON
Go ahead, Stephen -- take your
last licks.
(points at his
face)
But this will heal -- what I'm
going to say to you will scar you
forever. Ready? Here it is.

He dodges as they come after him. They catch him by the hair
and hurl him to the ground. As he gets up he hurls his
devastating verbal blow.

AARON
You'll never make more than
nineteen thousand dollars a year.
Ha ha ha.

They twist his arm and grip him -- his face scraped on the
concrete.

AARON
Okay, take this: You'll never
leave South Boston and I'm going
to see the whole damn world. You'll
never know the pleasure of writing
a graceful sentence or having an
original thought. Think about it.

He's punched in the stomach and sinks to the ground. As the
Young Toughs walk off Aaron catches a phrase of their
conversation.

YOUTH TOUGH
Nineteen thousand dollars...
Not bad.

Beginning: Aaron’s honest, yet abrasive speech to his so-called peers and teachers.

Middle: The toughs pounding Aaron.

Ending: Aaron’s verbal retort to the toughs.

Key note: Again each of the three parts of this scene has its own emotional center. The Beginning is the awkwardness of Aaron’s speech. The Middle is the pain Aaron suffers at the hands of his attackers. The End is the humiliation Aaron directs at the toughs, even if they’re not insightful enough to discern the truth of Aaron’s comments (“Nineteen thousand dollars… not bad”). So as with the previous scene, there is an emotional flow to the scene with an upbeat ending. Now for the introduction of the story’s Protagonist Jane:

FADE IN

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - 1968

INT. SUBURBAN HOME - NIGHT

JANE CRAIG, ten years old, is in her room typing. Above the
desk where she works is a bulletin board with letters and
pictures tacked to each one. Her desk has several file racks
which contain bulging but neat stacks of air mail envelopes --
a roll of stamps in a dispenser is to one side. Jane types
very well in the glare of her desk lamp.

JANE
(voice over; as
she types)
Dear Felatzia, it's truly amazing
to me that we live a world apart
and yet have the same favorite music.
I loved the picture you sent and
have it up on my bulletin board.
You're growing so much faster than
I am that I...

OTHER ANGLE

SHOWING Jane's FATHER standing near the door.

JANE
(voice over)
...am starting to get jealous.
I read in the newspapers about
the Italian strike and riots in
Milan. I hope you weren't...

FATHER
(softly)
Honey?...

Jane SCREAMS, and grabs her heart, breathing heavily, babbles
nervously at her Dad.

JANE
Oh God -- Daddy -- don't...don't...
don't ever scare me like that --
please.

We SUPER: "FUTURE NETWORK NEWS PRODUCER"

Her father is himself taken aback with the shock of her reaction.
Falling back towards the door:

FATHER
Jane -- For God's sake...
(recovering)
Look, it's time for you to go
to sleep.

JANE
I just have two more pen pals and
then I'm done.

FATHER
You don't have to finish tonight.

JANE
(he doesn't get in)
Nooo. This way the rotation stays
the same.

FATHER
Finish quickly. I don't want you
getting obsessive about these
things. Good night.

We REMAIN WITH Jane who has obviously become disconcerted and
troubled.

INT. HOUSE - NIGHT

As Jane moves to room at the other end of the hall -- a family
room where her Father reads the latest Rolling Stone of the
mid-60's -- Hunter Thompson, the New Journalism, the slim
Jann Wenner -- Jane bursts into the room.

JANE
Dad, you want me to choose my words
so carefully and then you just throw
a word like 'obsessive' at me. Now,
unless I'm wrong and...
(enunciating)
...please correct me if I am, 'obsession'
is practically a psychiatric term...
concerning people who don't have anything
else but the object of their obsession --
who can't stop and do anything else. Well,
Here I am stopping to tell you this. Okay?
So would you please try and be a little
more precise instead of calling a person
something like 'obsessive.'

She advances furiously on her Father since even this strung out,
even with two additional pen pal letters to get off, she had
enough sense of duty to kiss him good night before storming from
the room. She exits the room INTO BLACK.

Beginning: Jane busily writing one of her pen pals.

Middle: Jane’s heightened reaction to her father’s interruption.

Ending: Jane correcting her father’s misuse of the word “obsessive.”

Key note: Yet again, each of the scene’s three parts has its own emotional center. The Beginning is the sheer happiness Jane feels as she reaches out to one of her pen pals. The Middle is the conflict between father and daughter over her behavior. The ending turns the tables as the child parents the parent, providing yet another little psychological journey, topped off with Jane kissing her father, an upbeat resolution to the scene.

Furthermore this Script Opening sequence has its own Beginning, Middle, and End as constituted by Tom’s scene (Beginning), Aaron’s scene (Middle), and Jane’s scene (End).

So a back to basics reminder: When you approach writing any scene, ask yourself, “What is the scene’s Beginning, Middle, and End.”

This week, I’ll be posting something every day to remind us of a fundamental principle of screenwriting, just to make sure we’re not overlooking something obvious.

“Each scene must be a drama in itself”

November 27th, 2013 by

“Each scene must be a drama in itself. The whole picture must be made up of a series of small dramas. This makes the completed picture a mosaic of little ones. Scenes that have no dramatic value in them, or say nothing, must be eliminated. So the scenario writer must bear in mind at all times not what he can put into a picture, but what he can leave out.”

This from Jeanie Macpherson, actor and screenwriter from the silent picture era with over 200 movie credits. Thus her words have heft. Let’s parse those words.

We have a series of imperatives:

1. Each scene must be a drama in itself.

2. The whole picture must be made up of a series of small dramas. This makes the completed picture a mosaic of little ones.

3. Scenes that have no dramatic value in them, or say nothing, must be eliminated.

4. So the scenario writer must bear in mind at all times not what he can put into a picture, but what he can leave out.

This really is the Grand Slam of scene-writing advice.

As you write your first draft, you may grind out some scenes that are imperfect. That’s okay. Just. Keep. Writing. But honestly assess the scene and make a note about its problematic nature, flagging it for the rewrite.

Meanwhile as forge ahead, be mindful of this point:

“Each scene must be a drama in itself.”

I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

The Quest” has entered Week 20! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

“Every scene should advance the story”

November 26th, 2013 by

“Every scene should advance the story.”

Advice from screenwriter Philip Dunne who knew just a little something about the craft accumulating dozens of writing credits including such notable films as How Green Was My Valley, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Every scene should advance the story. How to determine that? Go back to that question I raised last week: What is the point of the scene? Typically a scene advances the story by fulfilling two goals: Structural (External World) and Emotional (Internal World).

Plucking a scene from my head, how about this one from The King’s Speech:

Structural Goal: To deal with the fact that Lionel is not a credentialed doctor.

Emotional Goal: To get Bertie to realize he has a voice… the voice of a King.

Time and time again in movies, we see this interplay between the events in the External World of a scene and what is happening on an emotional, psychological level.

As you pound out the first draft of your original screenplay, put each scene you write to the test: Does it advance the story? If so, how? If it does, great. Press on. If it does not, make a note, and continue on. You can deal with the scene in rewrites.

So remember:

“Every scene should advance the story.”

I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

The Quest” has entered Week 20! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

“What is the beginning, middle and end of the scene?”

November 22nd, 2013 by

Aristotle described a story as having three parts:

“A whole [story] is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary or usual consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and has also another after it. A well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the kind just described.”

One could argue the concept of three-act structure began with this articulation by the great Greek philosopher thousands of years ago. But its roots go to something more primordial. Consider just a few examples of the presence of three movements in nature:

  • Birth – Life – Death
  • Seed – Growth – Harvest
  • Departure – Journey – Return

Narrative as three movements, I would argue, is innately tied to existence itself. Thus it should not be surprising to consider this idea:

A screenplay has three acts. So does each scene.
Beginning. Middle. End.

What is the scene’s Beginning? What is the scene’s Middle? What is the scene’s End?

Whereas a scene’s type can vary, as well as its structural and emotional goal, the three movements as represented by beginning, middle and end are pretty much universal to all scenes. The specifics may change, but it figures that this tripartite structure is endemic to scenes just as it is to story itself.

Moreover there are turning points that serve as transitions from a scene’s beginning to middle, and middle to end.

So when you are writing each scene, be sure to ask:

What is the beginning, middle and end of the scene?”

I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

The Quest” has entered Week 19! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

“When should I enter / exit the scene?”

November 21st, 2013 by

Here’s another screenwriting mantra: “Enter the scene as late into the action as possible, and leave the scene as soon as you can.” If you don’t believe me, how about the dean of contemporary screenwriters William Goldman:

“You always attack a movie scene as late as you possibly can. You always come into the scene at the last possible moment. Get on. The camera is relentless. Makes you keep running.”

Professional screenwriters are intensely aware of this pressure. In a script, every word counts. Every line counts. Time is of the essence and your words can bog down the plot or propel the story forward.

Think about this: A screenplay is written in the present tense. Novels and short stories are almost always written in the past tense. By being in the present tense, a screenplay has a more immediate sense of time – these events, these actions are happening now! They unfold in a hurry, they move, move, move!

Now think about this: It’s 11:43, Sunday night. A cramped apartment in Santa Monica. Scripts piled everywhere, but the pile you care about most is that stack over there next to a chair. And in that chair is a Story Analyst. The stack is comprised of scripts the poor analyst had to read and cover over the weekend. The analyst rubs their bloodshot eyes, fighting off sleep, then reaches down to pick up one last script to read – your script.

The next time you write a scene, put that image into your mind. See if that causes you to writer sharper, leaner, tighter, and with more brevity. Because if you write long, if you include extraneous material in scenes that slows down the story, if you don’t enter late and exit early, you’re not likely to win over the story analyst.

There’s a term in Hollywood — a “good read”. And that refers to a script that not only has a great story, but is also written in a way that makes it engaging for the reader to read it. Writing scenes where you enter late and exit early is one way to help make your script a good read.

So how do you determine when to enter and exit a scene? Start by asking this question:

What is critical to include in the scene?

Notice that word – critical. I didn’t say ‘necessary’ or ‘important’, I used the stronger word to provoke your thinking: If this bit of business or that doesn’t feel critical to a scene, then it’s likely you can start the scene after or before that bit of business plays out. And how do you determine if it’s critical or not:

  • Does the bit of business impact the plot?
  • Does it add invaluable insight into a character’s motivation?
  • Does it make the scene more memorable?
  • Is it a payoff to an earlier scene or set-up for a future one?
  • Does the scene simply not work without it?

In this regard, it might be helpful for you to imagine the movie within your story universe. The story universe itself is organic, like our own, and continues on with its own activity. The movie is what you carve out of that daily continuous stream of action in your story universe. In some ways, it’s as important what you omit from a scene as what you choose to keep.

So when you are writing each scene, be sure to ask:

When should I enter / exit the scene?

I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

The Quest” has entered Week 19! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

“What is the conflict in the scene?”

November 20th, 2013 by

Here is some irony. We all know one of the most fundamental rules of writing is you can not have drama without conflict. And yet most of us have been trained in our lives and daily behavior to avoid conflict.

This can be a problem.

When it comes to working on a master plot, the issue may not be such a big deal because thinking in macro terms, we by and large dwell in the realm of concepts. So, for instance, we may derive a story from one of seven major plots as elucidated by author Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch:

  • Man vs. Self
  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Society
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Supernatural
  • Man vs. Machine/Technology
  • Man vs. Destiny

Each has a central form of conflict. And I would guess even the meekest soul among us would have no trouble trafficking in ideas to flesh out overarching Plotlines for any of these premises.

But narrow the scope of the discussion by focusing it on these characters in this scene, that is where our life-training can get in the way. If we are reticent, perhaps even resistant to explore potential areas of conflict with actual characters we can envision in our minds, we severely restrict our ability to write compelling stories.

Fact: There is almost nothing less entertaining than a scene with zero conflict and the characters all in agreement with each other. Content times for them = boring times for us.

Some reasons why conflict is critical to scene-writing:

  • Conflict can energize a scene.
  • Conflict can make a scene memorable.
  • Conflict can imbue a scene with emotion.
  • Conflict can provide a point of focus in a scene.
  • Conflict can make characters in a scene spark to life.
  • Conflict can pull a reader into a scene’s psychological drama.

I am sure you can come up with many other reasons why conflict is a critical dynamic when brainstorming, crafting and writing any given scene. So when you are writing your own story, hopefully you will surface some good drama by asking this question:

What is the conflict in the scene?

I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

7 Basic Conflicts

Related discussions

The Quest” has entered Week 19! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.