Writing Causal Scenes

Between the opening scene that sets off your story and the climactic scene that ends your story, you may have as many as 50 to 80 scenes. Each of the scenes must connect to the other in a cause-and-effect manner. Although each scene must stand alone, as a complete unit of drama, it must also evolve from the scene that preceded it and lead to the scene that follows it.

Screenwriting is known as causal writing, because one scene causes the next scene and so until the end. All the scenes in a screenplay build upon one another to develop the plot structure. If you remove one of the scenes your entire story structure should collapse. When people write episodic scenes they can be removed and nothing changes the overall plot because they weren't connected in the first place. That's why they're considered episodic.

You can compare removing scenes from a screenplay to removing beams from a building. Both would topple over if you removed an integral part from the structure. If removing a scene doesn't affect your overall screenplay then the scene is not necessary and should be eliminated. Think of your scenes as your would a house. Without the steel frames or skeleton, your house would topple over just like your screenplay.

However, if you remove a scene in a cohesive screenplay your entire structure should collapse and your screenplay fail. If a scene doesn't relate to your overall plot structure, don't use the scene, even if it's a terrific one.

How do you determine which scenes to include in your script? You do this by first deciding if it relates to your storyline. So you need to be able to state your storyline in a couple of sentences in order to know if the scene relates to the overall plot. Ask yourself if the scene helps move your story forward and if it doesn't, remove the scene, because it doesn't belong in your screenplay.

You have to choose what scenes you need to write for your screenplay to fulfill your structure. The first thing to do is start thinking of all the possible scenes you want in your screenplay. Let your imagination really go wild. Then jot down every scene you could conceivably use in your screenplay. Let your mind expand and free associate your ideas. Write everything that comes into your head in a couple sentences for each potential scene. It doesn't matter if you discard most of them, it's important to get them down without judgment.

Next, imagine all the situations that could possibly happen to your main character in order for him to reach his goal. Put down everything that comes into your mind. Think of your settings, of the characters, of the locations, atmosphere, the obstacles and write them down as fast as you can. After you have written all of the possibilities you can imagine, then start concerning yourself with putting the scenes in some order.

It is always a good idea to pace your scenes. Follow a strong emotional scene with a quiet scene. An action scene should be preceded by a slower-paced scene. Quiet scenes can be very powerful. They can include moments of introspection, when a character discovers something about himself or another character.

Remember the value of comic relief. When things get too emotionally heavy use your humor to give your audience relief from the intensity. Watch films that succeed in pacing the scenes and develop your sensitivity as a writer to pace your scenes throughout and intersperse humor with drama.

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