On Scene Structure

September 25, 2009

I refer to these quotations from my favorite writer quotes collection for inspiration and direction when creating or planning scenes for a screenplay.


“Every scene in a book or script should do two things. First, It should progress the story. The test is, if the scene is removed does it leave a hole in the plot? Second, the scene should simultaneously advance the character relationships.” (Stephen J. Cannell)

(on creating narrative drive) “The end of a scene should include a clear pointer as to what the next scene is going to be.”
(Film director Alexander Mackendrick from his book On Film-Making)

“In screenwriting, where you enter the scene becomes important, and the general rule is to enter late and get out early.” (Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays). He advises designing the scene so that you “enter at the last possible moment, just before the purpose of the scene is established. Then end the scene literally before it is ended,” so as to create a narrative tension, drawing the viewer into the next scene.

“The opening scenes should create an identification between audience and hero – a sense that they are equals in some ways … by giving heroes universal goals, drives, desires, or needs.” (Christopher Vogler, in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers )

“If you don’t know whether to write a scene or not, write the scene.” (Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays , regarding those moments where you are not sure whether to trust that the audience will “get it” or whether you need to come right out and say/show something to make sure they get it)

(On the subject of Narrative Drive) “The end of a scene should include a clear pointer as to what the next scene is going to be.”
(British film director Alexander Mackendrick)

“Particularly in a screenplay or teleplay, it is important to write economically. A great scene often accomplishes several things at once, skillfully weaving together elements of plot, character, conflict and foreshadowing. Do it in one scene instead of four. Look for opportunities of compression without overloading. After you write your scene or chapter, go back and ask yourself: What can I cut to make it cleaner and clearer?”
Writer and lecturer Stephen J. Cannell