Screenwriting Tips: Scene Checklist Part 1
I was going through my old screenwriting files the other day when I came across this 'scene checklist'. I remember compiling these tips from various sources, including Robert McKee's book STORY, David Mamet, Michael Hauge, Karel Segers, etc. It's a guide that proved so invaluable to my screenwriting, I thought I'd share it with you.
Not a list of rules, just a guide.
Don't be put off by the word 'checklist'. I know it raises the hackles of screenwriters when they see words that suggest there are rules they have to follow when writing a screenplay. This list is just an external representation of the internal questions that I, and others, think will help you craft stronger scenes. The more you use and apply these techniques, the faster they will become second nature and you won't need the list.
PLEASE NOTE: Read this list, absorb the fundamentals to a degree, and then put it away and write your first draft. DO NOT try to apply all of this on the first go around - it will bog you down. Pull the list back out when you're ready to tackle draft #2.
1. WHY ARE YOU WRITING IT?
What must it accomplish? Does it need to be there? Could you remove it or merge it with another scene and the story would still work?
2. WHO IS DRIVING IT?
The audience looks for a character to identify/empathise with so they can experience the scene emotionally.
Often it's the protagonist, but it can be the antagonist or a character with a sub-plot.
Usually, it's the character with a clear objective and an active strategy for accomplishing that goal. If a character just reacts, it is not their scene.
3. KNOW THAT CHARACTER!
GOAL: What do they want?
MOTIVATION: Why do they want it?
OBSTACLE: What is stopping the character from reaching that goal?
STAKES: What will happen if they don't reach it?
NOTE: the above questions are the same ones you should be asking about your hero and their overall journey through the script. That's because each scene is a mini-story.
4. THE STRUCTURE OF A MINI-STORY
Keep your reader's interest by giving your scene plot points:
PLUS, A HOOK INTO THE NEXT SCENE
5. IS IT IN THE RIGHT LOCATION?
The location you choose can significantly affect the mood or tone. Make sure you pick a place that suits the PURPOSE of the scene, not just because it's cool.
6. HOW DOES YOUR CHARACTER FEEL?
Every character brings an emotional state of mind into a scene. Know what it is and why because it will color everything they say and do.
7. WHAT RESPONSE DO YOU WANT?
When a reader reads your scene, what do you want them to feel?
Happy? Sad? Scared? Tense? Angry? Hopeful? Despairing? Joyful?
It doesn't have to be one emotion; it can be several, e.g. maybe we're sad for the hero but hopeful because an event in the scene has taught them a lesson they needed to learn.
8. ARC THE SCENE
Whatever emotional response you want from your reader, make sure it arcs over the course of the scene. In other words, the character/s should go into the scene with a goal and come out of it with a result different to the one they expected. This helps to keep the story moving forward and the drama high.
THAT'S IT - for Scene Checklist Part 1. I hope you found some of those screenwriting tips useful. If you did, please use the social media icons at the bottom of this page to share it with others ...because sharing is sexy!
In Part 2 (coming soon), I will dive a little deeper into arcs, character goals, and some mistakes screenwriters can fall into in scenes.
Until then, happy writing!