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  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

Screenwriting Tips: Scene Checklist Part 2

In my previous blog, Screenwriting Tips: Scene Checklist Part 1, I discussed some of the essential elements of scene construction. If you haven't read it, check it out first and come back here for Part 2.

Scene arcs

I touched on this subject in Scene Checklist Part 1, but it's worth expanding on because it's such a critical part of writing a screenplay. Why?

  • An 'arc' in screenwriting refers to a change FROM one state of being or place TO another.

  • When something changes, it involves movement, either figuratively or literally.

  • Movement prevents boredom. Move the character and/or plot, and you keep the audience interested.

So, here are some quick tips.

Emotional arcs

In his book STORY, Robert McKee talks about emotionally arcing a scene by taking your characters from a positive emotional situation to a negative one, or vice versa.

For example, your hero might start the scene, all smiles and friendly, but, by the end, they're angry or sad or distressed. Conversely, if your main character is in emotional jeopardy at the beginning, maybe they figure a way back to a happier place by the end,

What determines if a scene should start emotionally positive or negative?

  • Your character's mood coming into the scene

  • Which will probably be good or bad depending on whether they achieved their goal in the previous scene.

  • Or the character can fake it if they think it's necessary to achieve their goal in the new scene.

What determines how the scene should end? The answer lies above - did they achieve their goal?

NOTE: Depending on where your scene falls on the timeline of your script, it could arc from a positive to a double positive (say, towards the very end of the film) or negative to double negative (say, near the end of Act Two).

Physical arcs

Physically arcing your scene so that the characters are not in precisely the same space from beginning to end can be done with big or small movements.

For example, the scene starts with two people having just finished sex in bed and ends with one of them storming off to the bathroom and slamming the door behind them.

Or they could simply roll over and turn their back on their partner. We've seen both of those a million times, right? Chances are we've experienced it in our own lives!

It works because you're using physical space - arcing from intimate to separated - to visually demonstrate emotional change.

Arc done. Now hook me!

Once the issue at hand in the scene has arced, and just before the scene is DONE done, look out for something that is said or happens that sets up future action to come.

That's called the HOOK. It adds to the sense of forward movement in the story by creating intrigue and keeps the reader turning your pages.

Study characters

Next time you watch a scene in a show or film, note the charge - positive or negative - at the beginning and at the end.

Now look at the scene carefully and figure out how that happened. Chances are it has to do with the competing goals of the characters.

Character goals - next time

Movement means nothing if your characters aren't pursuing a goal in the scene that is connected to their larger objective for the story.

How they seek what they want, the strategies they use, are an equally crucial element for creating compelling scenes, so I'll leave that for my next instalment of 'Screenwriting Tips: Scene Checklist Part 3'

In the meantime, be safe and happy writing!


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