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By Michael Schilf · March 14, 2011
The importance of asking questions to develop character and explore story is often quite helpful, but question asking should never be limited to people and plot alone. The scene is just as important and essential to movie making. After all, a film is just a bunch of scenes strung together to create a comprehensive whole. The trick is to write scenes that are clear and concise, while still engaging the reader/viewer in a creative way.
So give it a try; explore these 50 questions and begin writing better scenes by finding answers to these essential scene elements.
The Big Ones:
1. What is the purpose of the scene?
2. Is the scene related to the rest of the story?
3. How does it advance the story?
4. Does it reveal something important about the character?
5. Do you use the location?
6. Where and when does the scene take place?
7. Could another time or location serve to heighten the impact?
8. Do you introduce your characters in motion?
9. Does the introduction give a glimpse into the nature of the character?
10. Is the introduction memorable?
11. Are any new characters introduced? If so, are they memorable?
12. Is it clear whose scene it is?
13. What characters are present at the beginning, which ones enter during the scene, and who is there at the end?
14. Where were the characters before the scene started?
15. Where are they going after it ends?
16. Does the dialogue reflect character? Is it natural? Forced?
17. Are their inner lives revealed through action, dialogue, and reaction?
18. Do all your characters sound the same?
19. Do they have an accent? Make the same grammatical mistake?
20. Does their profession color their speech?
On Character Objective:
21. What does your character want?
22. Is he or she motivated?
23. Is the character’s goal clear?
24. Are character actions believable, probable, or at least plausible?
25. What is the central conflict of the scene?
26. Is the conflict with one or multiple characters?
27. With the circumstances, within a particular character, or both?
28. What are the obstacles facing the character?
29. How do the obstacles stop the character from getting his/her goal?
30. Are the obstacles difficult enough? Are they too difficult?
On Action & Activity:
31. Is the scene static?
32. Is there unity of action?
33. Are there visual and audio clues and suggestions?
34. Are you using mood and sound to create a feeling for the scene?
35. Is there any use of dramatic irony?
36. Does the action come to a standstill? Or does it propel the story forward?
37. Do your characters have something to do? An activity or ‘business’?
38. Or are they just standing around, a bunch of talking heads?
39. Are the events plausible? Must disbelief be suspended?
40. Do these events obey the “rules” of previously suspended disbelief?
On Time & Economy:
41. Has time been eclipsed since the last scene?
42. If so, is it clear how much time has passed?
43. Are any elements of the future used? Should they be used?
44. Are you starting the scene as late as possible and getting out early?
45. Does the scene belong in the story being told? Should you kill it?
On Audience Connection:
46. Does the audience know what might go right or wrong within the scene?
47. Do they hope/fear? Are they actively engaged? Or just passive observers?
48. Is the scene too predictable, or does it allow the audience to add it up?
On Script Continuity:
49. Do you have scenes of preparation and aftermath?
We need moments when we are alone with the characters – where we really get to know them. These are the moments, usually before or after important scenes of conflict in a script when we really are in the shoes of the characters. We are drawn into their mindset. We know what they are facing or have just faced, and we understand what they are thinking. Mood, music, and props are often very important to these scenes.
On Use of Contrast:
50. Do your scenes contrast?
Night/Day, Int./Ext., Action/Peaceful? For example, a claustrophobic scene in a jail cell cut to a scene in a rowboat in the middle of a mountain lake. Read your script scene after scene – is a scene too much like the one just before it? Is it another four-page dialogue scene? Does it take place in another smoke filled room? Think of ways to use contrast: other possibilities, places, and scenarios.