Done with your screenwriting story prep? Time to write a great scene
21. Enter late – get out early
Do you ever read one of your old scripts and find yourself getting bored? It’s weird, ‘cause you thought it was lit AF when you wrote it. A common reason for this is that your scenes just aren’t compelling.
Just for you, we assembled a quick lowdown on how to write scenes so your audience is begging for more.
Getting in late and leaving early is the most important tip of all time for scene construction. Here’s an example from a scene out of Netflix’s show Maniac:
Owen receives the phone call in his flat that he’s been selected as the perfect candidate for their “hero program” and whether he’ll be coming the following Monday for his first day. You’ll notice the writer didn’t bother with Owen’s reply (“Yes, sure thing! You can count on me – see you Monday. Buh-bye!”). After all, the audience finds out soon enough that he’s in.
In Netflix’s GLOW, Ruth has a horrible one-to-one interview with harsh director Sam Sylvia. He doesn’t like the look of her – or perhaps he does – he can’t decide. He makes it very clear he’s completely unimpressed with her resumé. Even Ruth, desperate as she is for money, is feeling unsure about the interview.
The interview scene ends with the audience knowing whether Ruth gets a callback or not. The next scene reveals the information indirectly, when she’s on the phone to her mom and mentions she got the callback.
Get in late
Every scene you write should make the audience feel compelled to keep watching and not switch channels to the Kardashians. When putting together a scene, always ask: “What is the absolute minimum information I can give the audience without them losing track of what’s going on – but still keep them hungry for more?”
This keeps the audience thinking about the story and piecing together the clues. If you don’t do this, the audience will become passive and bored. How can you hit the ground running? If a character needs to go to the shop for something, we don’t care about the coat he put on or how he got there. Just begin the scene in the shop.
Stick to this rule of thumb and your story will be told in less time, entertaining the hell out of viewers. Let the fight against boredom begin! The pace of TV & film editing is fast as hell nowadays, so keep up with the flow and write some snappy scenes.
The key to flowing scenes
You can use this technique continually to hook your audience into each following scene. Sometimes you do want to linger on a specific element in a scene, but bear this technique in mind for any sections of your script that need some serious surgery.
Analyze films and TV scene construction, and you’ll see this technique being applied simply everywhere. When you submit your script to screenwriting competitions, readers specifically look for ones that can “hold them in that world”. So hold your readers with your super scene-writing skills, and don’t let go!
This particular assignment might just be one of the most useful craft exercises you can do. If you keep practising this style of writing long after you’re done with this course, every single script of yours will be a page-turner. So don’t skip this homework!
To cut a long story short . . .
Think of a crazily interesting event that has either happened to you, or someone else. Write it like a movie, following the rules in the lesson: cut all the boring stuff out. Get in late on your scenes and leave early, and you’ll be practising your craft like a pro.
Show the third act who’s boss, and finish it. Go back through your whole script and trim down each scene, with particular focus on each one’s start and end.