Life in Scenes

A guest post from screenwriter and educator Tom Benedek.

Screenwriting is scene writing.

Well-written scenes are the THE WATER of screenwriting.

The lives of characters condensed to essential times when obstacles are challenged, preparations completed, relief is expressed, events interpreted. Different kinds of times.

  • The human body is more than 60 percent water. Blood is 92 percent water, the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, and bones are about 22 percent water.
  • A human can survive for a month or more without eating food, but only a week or so without drinking water.

A movie can survive for a few minutes with great cinematography, fine actors or movie stars, an interesting story. BUT if the scenes don’t work, the film will not play right. Solidly constructed scenes carry films. Great scenes lift them high, make them mighty.

Writer-director Mike Nichols

The director Mike Nichols believed that there were only three kinds of scenes:




Seduce. Confront. Negotiate.

All active verbs. And great starting points to imagine your characters’ destinies in any given scenes.

Each of Nichols’ categories offers a way to shape how a character behaves in a scene. Which of your characters might try always to seduce to achieve a goal, push past an obstacle in their story movement. When would that character opt to confront or negotiate?

Nichols’ approach is interesting.

And there are many other ways to categorize scenes — direct conflict, indirect conflict, preparation, aftermath, plant, payoff, expository.

Making note of the kind of scene you are writing may make all the difference on the page.

Scene Writing Intensive — online — one week — starts Monday, October 16 —

We will workshop class member material and be reading, watching, talking about all kinds of outstanding scenes — exploring how their writers approached conflict, contrast between characters, expository scenes, flashbacks, more.

For more information, go here.