Productivity Tip: Use a Scene Outline to Stay Focused

Sometimes, when you sit down to write your screenplay, the blank page can psych you out.

With a scene outline, you can map out exactly where you want your scene to go and get an idea of how you want to get there.

Here are 4 different ways you can approach the scene outline:

  1. Map out the inciting incident, midpoint, and resolution. Just like full scripts, scenes can be broken into three points: the moment that incites the scene, the turning point of the scene, and the resolution. These three points give you enough direction while also providing leeway for you to fill in the gaps.
  2. Sketch your location or find a set of images. Finding photos of the location where your scene is taking place can help you find inspiration. There’s this great swordfight in the first Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow and Will Turner are fighting in this blacksmithery. There are endless swords being made here, so they have all these extra weapons. There’s also all of these interesting props that are used in the scene: a bag of powder gets ripped open, the donkey freaks out when one of the characters grabs the branding iron, and at one point both Will and Jack end up fighting in the rafters. It’s a really inventive fight scene that’s packed full of character-revealing moments, and it’s not just fancy choreography. The expert screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio came up with this scene. If I were them, I probably would have found photos of the locale I was thinking of, and used those to inspire the scene.
  3. Plan out the in and out points. If a scene begins with a certain mood or tone, see if you can give it an arc and make it end up in a completely different place. By saying, “this scene will begin with two best friends having a humorous conversation, and end with them arguing” then you have something to write to. This helps create an organic sense of narrative drive because you are trying to push your scene from point A to point B.
  4. Pinpoint the conflict. Some scenes — and this is especially relevant to comedy — begin with a juicy conflict and simply escalate from there. By spending all your pre-writing time mapping out the kind of conflict that will fuel the scene, you can really dive into your scene knowing that you’ve got enough momentum to prevent this scene from falling flat on the page.

That’s all, folks! Now stop procrastinating and outline that scene.

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