Better Scenes – how to write them.

Better scenes in Schindler’s List

Better scenes in Schindler’s List

IN her book, Making a Good Script Great, Linda Seger reminds us that in reading through scene after scene in a conventional novel or film script, we occasionally observe that something feels off with the story.

At best, the tale seems to have grown limp. At worst, it has ground to a halt. Yet, when we think about each scene individually, there seems little wrong with any one of them. This can be particularly marked in a long story.

The problem, more often than not, lies in a scene being disconnected from the story by being merely descriptive and static.

“Better scenes must, at the very least, contribute to the forward thrust of the story.”

Compare the intensity of films such as Schindler’s list and Dances with Wolves to The Last Emperor and Hope and Glory.

The last two films certainly contain their own magic, but they feel long and drawn out because they are filled with static and descriptive scenes rather than scenes that propel us inexorably towards a specific goal. Such scenes slacken a story because they lack outer and inner momentum.

In trying to avoid this pitfall in your own writing, ask yourself five crucial questions, and make sure the answers are in the affirmative:

1. Is each scene absolutely essential in my story?
2. Does each scene drive my story forward?
3. Are most of my scenes cinematic – do they conjure up images in the minds of the readers?
4. Do most of my scenes involve ongoing character relationships?
5. Do I enter a scene late and leave early, after the point has been made?

There are other articles in this website that provide more replete checklists, but the questions mentioned above are some of the most crucial.


Run your scenes through a checklist to ensure that they fulfil their essential function within your story.

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2 thoughts on “Better Scenes – how to write them.

  1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Yes. Non-linear stories force us to forge a coherent fabula from a discombobulated syuzhet.

  2. Gerhard Pistorius

    A very helpful post indeed. I find that non liner stories such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp fiction and The Hateful eight make scenes that more interesting because it forces the viewer to pay attention to the situations , making the outcome so much more rewarding.

    In Schindler’s list , the scene where Oscar Schindler confronts the officer that he is losing money because they have taken his workers. Any form of sympathy we have developed for Schindler’s character is erased for we see now that despite his compassion for his factory workers , he is is a business man before he is a humanists.

    In short : Great scenes are driven by cause and effect and how characters act according to their trades and flaws.


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