“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.

“Why are these characters in this scene?”

November 19th, 2013 by

Another crucial question to ask when writing a scene: “Why are these characters in this scene?”

Who’s in the scene? Or more aptly, what characters should be in the scene? And why? Likewise who should not be in the scene?

These are questions many writers don’t ask – at least consciously – because they approach scene-writing intuitively. Fortunately the average scene makes the answers to this particular set of questions pretty clear because events of the plot often will dictate which characters should be in the scene and which should not.

But even knowing intuitively which characters should participate in a scene does not necessarily translate into that scene being written well. A writer can get the roster of characters for a scene completely right, yet the execution of the scene completely wrong.

One major reason is because a writer should ‘cast’ each scene not based on intuition, but upon the point of the scene: Who does what to whom and why?

Beyond that, you need to know both the structural and emotional goals of the scene to determine the purpose of each character in relation to the Plotline and Themeline.

So right off the top, if you have a character / characters in a scene who do not have a specific function tied to plot, you should more than likely excise them from the scene.

Conversely once you determine what each character’s purpose in the scene is, you are on your way to being able to craft a viable, quality block of narrative.

So with every scene you write, ask this question:

Why are these characters in this scene?

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.

“What is the point of the scene?”

November 18th, 2013 by

I begin the scene-writing process asking this fundamental question:

What is the point of the scene?

Every single scene in a screenplay should have a purpose, a reason for its existence, a point to it.

In the External World, the realm of action and dialogue, there is a structural goal, something that ties the scene to the Plotline, intersecting with and advancing the narrative in the physical universe.

In the Internal World, the realm of intention and subtext, there is an emotional goal, something that ties the scene to the Themeline, intersecting with and advancing the narrative in the psychological universe.

This speaks to the fact that in a scene, something happens. And something else happens. There is the something we see and hear. And the something we feel and intuit.

If you want to know the point of a scene, these are the questions you need to be asking, the layers you need to be exploring.

So with every scene you write, try starting with this question:

What is the point of the scene?

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.

September is Scene-Writing Month: Day 20

September 30th, 2013 by

As noted in this post, September is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: If you are thinking about using the Go On Your Own Quest schedule to pound out a first draft of an original screenplay, FADE IN is fast approaching — October 21 to be precise. What better way to get your writing muscles moving than a series of scene-writing exercises.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* I’m sure someone will post a way for you to write scenes and upload them so they maintain proper script format, but that isn’t a big deal to me. Rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: Write an opening scene.

It’s perhaps the single most important scene in your screenplay: The very first one. It sets the tone and atmosphere of your story, and if it is entertaining can grab a reader’s attention from the get-go.

2 pages max. Post your scene in comments for feedback.

If you don’t feel comfortable uploading your scene, that’s okay. I encourage you to do the exercise privately. Let’s face it: Any writing is better than no writing.

To learn more about Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Also The Black Board is joining in with National Sketch Writing Month, so if you’re a comedy writer and want to check that out, you can go here.

That’s it for September. Hope you enjoyed this series. Special kudos to plinytheelder_t who I believe posted a scene every day. Should we do it again next year? Any suggestions?

Next month’s series which starts tomorrow: Your suggestions for Hidden Movie Gems.

September is Scene-Writing Month: Day 19

September 27th, 2013 by

As noted in this post, September is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: If you are thinking about using the Go On Your Own Quest schedule to pound out a first draft of an original screenplay, FADE IN is fast approaching — October 21 to be precise. What better way to get your writing muscles moving than a series of scene-writing exercises.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* I’m sure someone will post a way for you to write scenes and upload them so they maintain proper script format, but that isn’t a big deal to me. Rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: Write a scene involving a medicine cabinet.

2 pages max. Post your scene in comments for feedback.

If you don’t feel comfortable uploading your scene, that’s okay. I encourage you to do the exercise privately. Let’s face it: Any writing is better than no writing.

To learn more about Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Also The Black Board is joining in with National Sketch Writing Month, so if you’re a comedy writer and want to check that out, you can go here.

Monday: Our final scene-writing prompt.

Next month’s series: Hidden Movie Gems.

September is Scene-Writing Month: Day 18

September 26th, 2013 by

As noted in this post, September is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: If you are thinking about using the Go On Your Own Quest schedule to pound out a first draft of an original screenplay, FADE IN is fast approaching — October 21 to be precise. What better way to get your writing muscles moving than a series of scene-writing exercises.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* I’m sure someone will post a way for you to write scenes and upload them so they maintain proper script format, but that isn’t a big deal to me. Rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: Write a wedding proposal scene.

Let’s push the envelope here. Think of something bizarre. Or scary. Or funny. Or dramatic.

Your mission should you choose to accept: Write a distinctive and memorable scene in which someone proposes marriage to another. 2 pages max.

Post your scene in comments for feedback.

If you don’t feel comfortable uploading your scene, that’s okay. I encourage you to do the exercise privately. Let’s face it: Any writing is better than no writing.

To learn more about Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Also The Black Board is joining in with National Sketch Writing Month, so if you’re a comedy writer and want to check that out, you can go here.

Tomorrow: Another scene-writing prompt.