If you’ve written a script, open up your script right now and turn to any page in the script. Read the scene. Then answer these questions below.
This is the Scene-By-Scene Litmus Test you should run EVERY SCENE of your screenplay through, systematically, to find out if it can be improved:
1) Is the scene even necessary?
If yes, go to #2. If the information or emotional firepower of the scene has already been given to us in a previous scene (or if it happens in a later scene), then the scene is probably not necessary. If it’s not, delete the scene entirely.
2) Is the scene as brief as it can be?
If yes, go to #3. If no, stop what you’re doing and rewrite the scene to be as brief as possible. Smash those words down to as FEW as possible. Say MORE with LESS. Bust out the thesaurus if you have to. Convey what you need to convey with less words, less dialogue, and more concise action.
3) Is the scene as strong as it can be?
If, yes, go to #4. If no, stop what you’re doing and punch up the impact of the scene.
If there are jokes in the scene, make the jokes funnier.
If there’s sex in the scene, make the sex sexier.
If there’s drama in the scene, make the drama more dramatic.
NO WORDS IN ANY SCREENPLAY SHOULD BE CONSIDERED “FILLER.” Make EVERY LINE, EVERY WORD, COUNT.
4) Is the scene as original as it can be?
If yes, go to #5. If no, stop what you’re doing and ask yourself how you could make this scene, this mini-movie within your movie, more original, more fun to look at, more of a surprise to your audience, more thrilling, more fresh, more unique.
If it’s a scene where two people are talking and revealing exposition, maybe they can be talking at the same exact time.
Maybe the scene has no sound, but we read what they’re saying in subtitles.
Maybe the scene is set against a blinding white sun and we can only see the characters in silhouette.
Want to be an original screenwriter? It all starts here. Maybe your overall concept isn’t all that original, but your SCENES sure can be, with a little effort.
5) Finally, is there a better way to connect this scene with other scenes in the script?
Both before and after? Find a moment to tie a previous scene together with this scene.
Whether that means bringing back a signature beat, or a signature prop from an earlier scene. Or set up a rhythm or a story beat that will pay off in a later scene. Look for opportunities to link this scene – to interweave this scene – with the other scenes in your script.
Even if that’s just as rudimentary as making sure the dialogue is consistent.
Every scene – every scene – is important. No scene should be written off as if you’re thinking “Well, the audience doesn’t really care about this anyway,” or “Well, the audience needs time to get up and go to the bathroom or buy popcorn at some point, right?” To hell with that.
If your script somehow bucks the odds and gets made into a movie, the people who make it are going to spend an awful lot of money, time, sweat, headaches and tears, making sure they cast the perfect actors for every scene, get props for every scene, build sets for every scene, find locations for every scene, make costumes for every scene, prepare wardrobe for every scene, buy enough filmstock for every scene, et cetera, et cetera.
So if the rest of the crew is going to put that much work into each and every scene, what makes you think you, the writer, are exempt from putting that much love and attention into every scene?
Make every scene count. If your scene isn’t the best it can be, but you don’t have the ability make it any better, cut it. Your script will probably work fine without it.