Skip to main content

TIP OF THE DAY: Getting In (and Out) of Difficult Scenes

Hey, writers--

I thought of you all last night. In a good way… even though it came in a moment of sheer outrage and frustration.

I was sitting in my office, beating my head on the desk as I tried to figure out a scene in a romantic comedy I’m working on. And it was not going well. You know the feeling… you know what the scene needs to accomplish, you know exactly what information needs to be conveyed, you even know how long the scene should last. But you can’t figure out a way in.  You don’t hear the opening line—or see the opening action—in your head.

I hate these moments.

And after about two hours of trying to concoct as many clever beginnings to the scene as possible, I remembered something… a little trick I like to use that almost always works.

Fifteen minutes later, I had finished the scene, and it was better than anything I’d written all day.

And that’s when I thought of you guys. Because I figured if I had this problem, maybe other writers had this problem, and if this trick worked for me, maybe it would work for them as well.

So, here’s my suggestion for a great way to begin and end scenes…

Part I: Enter your scene on the answer to a question. In other words, begin the scene with one character answering a question asked by another character—but we don’t hear the initial question. This throws us directly into the “meat,” or action, of the scene… and, usually, right into good conflict between two people. Not hearing the question, which would anticipate an answer, also lets you have some fun coming up with a compelling opening line. For instance…

Rather than starting your scene this way—

INT. BEDROOM

Sarah turns from the window to face her husband.

SARAH
But… but why her? Why’d you do it?

MICHAEL
Because I’ve never loved you, that’s why.

Just come in here…

INT. BEDROOM

Michael turns to face his wife.

MICHAEL
Because I’ve never loved you, that’s why.

SARAH
Don’t say that.

MICHAEL
Our house… our marriage… the kids… it’s a
sham. Always has been.

See how you begin your scene with your characters, and their conflict, already in motion?

Likewise, I like to end scenes with a question, without hearing the answer (Part II). This allows you to end every scene with a little cliffhanger that propels your audience into the next scene. For instance…

Rather than ending you scene this way…

BRANDON
I know there’s a lot of blood, but some
day we’ll look back at this and laugh.

ROGER
What about Michael? Is he okay?

Brandon frowns.

BRANDON
I’m sorry, Roger. He didn’t make it.

INT. FUNERAL HOME

Mourners sob as the MICHAEL’S WIFE reads her eulogy…

MICHAEL’S WIFE
…and that’s when Michael would laugh
the hardest…

End it this way…

BRANDON
I know there’s a lot of blood, but
some day we’ll look back at this and
laugh.

ROGER
What about Michael? Is he okay?

INT. FUNERAL HOME

MICHAEL’S WIFE reads her eulogy…

MICHAEL’S WIFE
…and that’s when Michael would laugh
the hardest…

By eliminating Brandon’s final answer, we leave the scene hanging on Michael’s question… making the beginning of the next scene the answer itself! This gives both scenes a new energy, with one scene propelling the reader into the next.

Hope this tip helps… and remember: don’t be afraid to ask questions, leave comments, or email me at WDScriptnotes@fwpubs.com.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 610

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a "different way of seeing the world" poem.

How To Research Topics Like a Journalist

How To Research Topics Like a Journalist

From in-person interviews to scouring the web for credible sources, journalist Alison Hill shares tips on how to research topics like a journalist.

Can I Have Your Attention?

Can I Have Your Attention?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, an announcement is about to change the course of history.

Glenn Boozan: On the Funny Side of Parenting

Glenn Boozan: On the Funny Side of Parenting

Emmy nominated comedy writer Glenn Boozan discusses how a funny piece of perspective turned into her new humor book, There Are Moms Way Worse Than You.

From Script

Adapting True Crime and True Stories for Television (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with writers and showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis (“Pam & Tommy”), Patrick Macmanus and Liz Hannah (“The Girl from Plainville”) who both have taken creative liberties in adapting true stories for a limited series.

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Author Chanel Cleeton discusses how reader curiosity led her to write her new historical fiction novel, Our Last Days in Barcelona.

Writer's Digest Interview | Marlon James Quote

The Writer's Digest Interview: Marlon James

Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James talks about mythology and world-building in his character-driven epic Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star Trilogy in this interview from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: New Podcast Episode, a Chance at Publication, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our newest podcast episode, your chance to be published, and more!

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

Award-winning novelist David Adams Cleveland discusses the timeliness of his new novel, Gods of Deception.