The TV Writer on TV Writing
by Larry Brody
Scenes are more than signposts on your way to the end of the screenplay road. They’re more than just moments in which story or character points are thrown out at the viewer or reader. A good scene in a screen or teleplay — and by good I mean EFFECTIVE in terms of getting the response you want — is a mini-film in itself, with a beginning, middle, and end.
Scenes need to be structured so that their intensity grows and then climaxes, like microcosms of your script. (And, I think it’s clear, sex too – but we’re not going there right now.)
This doesn’t mean that a scene should go on and on. far from it.
Just as a good script starts as close to the middle of the story as possible, so does a good scene. On the first series I ever wrote, the not-exactly-famous-but-still-a-lot-of-fun HERE COME THE BRIDES I was taught what head writer Bill Blinn called “The First Rule of TV Writing,” the trick of beginning not at the beginning of a confrontation between the characters but in the middle.
Confrontations, btw, were far from rare. There was always a confrontation because the Second Rule Bill taught me was that each scene had to be about conflict. That was – and still is – one of TV and film’s immutable laws.
Think about how rare it is for the audience to see a character enter a room and say, “Hello.” Now think about all the times we, as viewers, get to the room while the characters are in mid-argument — and how, because of that – we’re instantly drawn in, suckered, hooked.
On a well-written show, whether it’s drama or comedy, the arguments are played out to their fullest, reaching their emotional peak, and, in action shows, their physical peak as well. The ending comes be quick and hard (oh hell, am I talking about sex again?) and can be anything from a furious threat to the slamming of a door to a shooting. Then it’s CUT and onto the next rising argument.
Today, when I see reruns of BRIDES or any of the old shows I wrote I’m amazed by how easy it is to get into the story even if the episode is half over when you start watcjomg. That’s because each scene stands alone, as an exciting vignette.
Write your scenes as short, two page filmlets and see how much more immediate that will make your entire script.
Larry Brody is the Big Boss here at TVWriter™. Learn more about his storied career.