Top 3 Elements Every Scene Needs


So, you’ve got your structure sorted, but there’s still something not quite right about your screenplay. It’s flat, it lacks the necessary OOMPH!, and the characters that are kicking arse in your head just seem lifeless and uninteresting on the page. Then it could be that you’re missing one or more of these basic elements that every scene needs:


Just like a screenplay, scenes also need a structure. Usually that is as simple as a beginning, middle and end, but at its core every scene needs a progression that incites a change. The characters start in one emotional place; something happens; and that causes them to end in another emotional space. This is how we see the characters move towards their ultimate goal.

While some might argue that Looper isn’t the best screenplay ever written, few would disagree that  it’s still a very solid example of how to write a great screenplay.  And it’s available free and legally.

Even from the opening scene we see a simple narrative progression:

  1. Joe waits. Learning French to pass the time. [the beginning]
  2. The Bloodied Man appears. Joe shoots him. [something happens – the middle].
  3. Joe gets his payment [the ending]

Joe emotionally progresses from tension to relief, as he receives his silver.  The structure is clear and concise. We could have seen much more:  Joe arriving in the field, prepping, setting up the tarp. Or putting the body into the truck. But we don’t need any of that. The writer starts the scene as late as he can and exit it as early as he can. See if you can do the same with your scenes.


The something happens part in the structure is called the conflict. It’s the principal propellant within a narrative. It doesn’t have to be bazookas at twenty-paces, or even involve multiple characters. It can be an internal struggle, for instance a choice between two or more equally unpalatable options. Every conflict can be categorised into:

  • Man vs man – disputes between characters
  • Man vs the world – external struggles against society or the environment
  • Man vs himself – internal struggles usually to overcome a character flaw or a change in beliefs

Conflict is where our characters are defined. Their actions and choices give us a broader understanding of who they are. For example in the opening scene from Looper, if Joe had freed the Bloodied Man it would have been a completely different character and subsequently a very different story. Also, sometimes it’s what a character doesn’t do to resolve the conflict that can be the best indicators as to who that character is and what they hold dear.

Having characters agree about everything is the death of any scene.  Give them a point of contention, give each of them a goal and then have them strive to achieve that goal within the scene.


Every scene needs a reason for existing. More importantly, every scene needs to be the best possible way of achieving that purpose. Ask yourself,

  • what am I trying to do in this scene?
  • Is there a better way?
  • Can I do it better?

For every scene, make sure you understand clearly what you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to drive the narrative forward? Define character? Convey information? While every scene should be doing something of all three, don’t meander or get bogged down. Set a goal and head straight for it. This will assist in keeping your scenes punchy and short. As a rule of thumb I feel that any scene that stretches beyond two pages is too long. There are exceptions, most of the scenes in Pulp Fiction run long. However, Tarantino manages to stay focused. If you can do the same, then by all means do it, but for most of us mere mortals shorter is better.

While getting these three elements right is unlikely to solve all your problems, 90% of the issues I see as a script editor come down to a failure in one or more of these areas. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix in most cases and becomes second nature once you know about it.


I’m skribe. I’m a writer, a film-maker and an actor. While I’m originally from Perth, Australia, I currently reside on a tropical island, the Lion City of Singapore. Fingerprint: 79A1 DC6C D367 8A31 135A 7AFA 940E 4231 D7B9 B15C If you like what you see buy me a coffee.

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