The Well Written Scene, Part 1

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One Good Scene Deserves Another

While we’re on the topic of scene work, let’s examine what makes a scene pop in a screenplay.

What are the essential tasks of a scene in a screenplay?  They must do two essential things.  Move the story forward and keep the audience engaged.

One Job at a Time

A scene is the hardest working member of your screenplay team.  It has the most things to do at once.  Along with plot and story, a scene reveals character and theme.  It holds a reader’s interest with story questions.  It conveys tone and mood.

In order for all that to be accomplished, a scene convey only ONE ESSENTIAL piece of information that advances the plot.

This information is the overall point of the scene.  This is the big reveal of that scene.  This is what everything in the scene is about.

This information drives the plot forward and generates the story question at the end of the scene that keeps the audience wanting to know more.  It’s what you put in beatsheet to describe that scene.

A Clear Objective

Most scenes in a movie involve your main character because s/he should always be the agent of his/her fate.  However, that does not mean that your main character is always the protagonist of every scene.  When you have a great antagonist or you have subplots, other characters may be the protagonist for that specific scene.

Regardless of which character, the protagonist of each scene should have one clear objective.  They should have one goal that relates to the overall goal of that character.  For the main character, that will be the plot. For secondary characters that will be one of the subplots.


Just like your plot, every scene must have conflict.  There must be a protagonist in each scene who wants something, and there must be a person, object or environment that has a unified yet opposite want that creates the conflict of the scene.

In a good scene, both the protagonist and antagonist of the scene have strong, clearly understood wants that are in direct conflict.  This conflict can be personal; it can be public; and it can be unconsciously known by one of the two.  But it must be ardent and specific.

In every good scene, there are two kinds of conflict: External and Internal.

External conflict is what the character wants and how s/he overcomes the person or obstacle preventing them from achieving that goal.  This is the plot beat of the scene.

Internal conflict is what the character needs, what the character must sacrifice and what the character must reveal in order to obtain this goal.  This is the story beat of the scene.

How these two conflicts play out will not only reveal plot and story but also character and theme.  And like the plot of your script, each scene will have its own beginning, middle and end.

Next week, will examine how these beginnings, middles and ends are constructed in a scene and how they can be used to create compelling moments on every page.



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