It was also great to hear [another writer's] words come to life and I leaned a lot from seeing a different writer's work evolve.

Karen Walton-Rolls

Writers constantly get stuck up in their heads, which is the weakest, most boring place to write from. Sceneplay gets you out of your head and into your guts and heart - back into that wonderfully messy place we call life.

Geof Miller,
Screenwriter, Script Coach

Helped me focus on specific objectives for the scene as well as other elements that could be introduced. It was great!

Sue Berg

  Make Your Scene Work 3x Harder

Vol. I, Issue 9, October 9, 2007
In this Issue
Make Your Scene Work 3x Harder

Is your scene too thin?  Do you need to put some meat on its bones?  Read today's Feature Article to find out how to beef up your scene so it can work harder for you.

A Note from Lisa
Dear lisa,

Searching for Bobby Fischer by Steven Zaillian is a great script. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth studying. We actually showed parts of the movie to our kids when they were young hoping to spark an interest in chess. It worked too. For a while.

The problem is I don’t play chess. My daughter proved that when she was just five years old. She checkmated me in eight moves. I guess if she’s going to develop a passion for the game, she’ll have to look outside our home. But there’s an expression in chess I just love. Good players often talk about moving their pieces with tempo.

The idea behind the phrase is simple. It means don’t waste a move. Always develop your game according to your own agenda. So even if your opponent is forcing you back, the question is how to move back in such a way that it becomes an advantage? Can you take another piece as you move back? Can you protect one of your pieces? Can you set yourself up to take an opponent’s piece in a future move?

I love this idea because it’s a great way for writers to think about their characters, too. For this and other ways to sharpen your screenwriting game, read on...

Happy writing!

Warm Regards,

Lisa Phelps Dawes
President, Sceneplay

Coming Soon

An interview with a professional script reader and development consultant.  More details soon!

If you’d like to read back issues of SceneZine you can find them in the article archive on the Free Resources page at

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Feature Article
Make Your Scene Work 3x Harder

Sometimes you hit a glorious spot in your writing where everything is clicking. One scene leads to the next and the story actually makes sense! You read through your script and feel a sense of satisfaction at the completeness of it.

Congratulations! That’s a great position to be in. Celebrate. Take a break. Go for a jog, walk your dog, or grab a mocha. Then when you come back, I have a question for you...

Can it be better?

At Sceneplay we often see stories spread too thin. Screenwriters get frugal. They parcel out events afraid they won’t be able to think of new ones. Each scene does indeed advance the story, but in a modest way. The story can become predictable and plodding.

We’re always looking for a way to pile on and complicate things. Complexity leads to tension and friction. And tension and friction are more interesting. So ask yourself, how can the scene be richer, more resonant, and surprising?

Here are three great ways to answer that question and make your scene work harder: combine, complicate and advance.

1. Combine Events

Look at all of your scenes. What happens in each scene to reveal character or move the story forward? Is there a way to combine several events from different scenes into a single more powerful scene? Always choose to complicate sooner in the story rather than later.

Let’s say your main character is attending her sister’s funeral in one scene, and the next day her husband sends divorce papers. Don’t wait. Put both events in the same scene. Have the husband pull out the papers at the funeral and ask her to sign them now.

Who would do such a thing? Fascinating characters. Driven characters, that’s who.

2. Complicate Relationships

A writer once brought us a scene between two sisters, concerned it lacked conflict. The older sister was about to do something extremely dangerous. She came to her younger sister’s apartment the night before for comfort and courage. In the scene as written, the younger sister was very supportive and nurturing. Big Sister got what she came for.

In life, it rarely works out that way. The writer forgot that the little sister has needs and wants of her own. She may feel obligated to support her sister but there’s always more to it. What if she was afraid for her? What if she resented the fame Big Sister was attracting? What if there was something going on in her life she’d like her big sister to help with? What if she wanted to go with her big sister? Other characters’ needs and wants will always complicate things for your hero.

3. Advance the Action With Tempo

Strong characters are always looking for a way to turn things to their advantage. They have an objective. Even at their lowest point, even when they’re doomed to failure, your characters want something. Consider what your character would want at every turn and you’ll be advancing the action with tempo. Let them at least try to make something happen. Don’t waste a move.

There’s a good example of a main character acting with tempo in Something’s Gotta Give. Erica, the heroine, is grief stricken. She’s just broken up with Harry, the man she loves. She’s been crying her eyes out for days. She’s at it again when her daughter Marin finds her. Erica is crushed because, for the first time in her life, she experienced what it’s like to be wildly in love. She wants that feeling back. In fact, it’s so life-changing that she desperately wants her daughter to experience it too. So, instead of a scene about Erica spiraling out of control, it becomes a scene about her pushing back at life. She acts out by giving Marin some passionate, heartfelt advice.  (Please note: due to technical limitations the following dialogue is not in correct screenplay format.)

I think you must consider the possibility that we are more alike than you realize. I let someone in and I had the time of my life.

I’ve never had the time of my life.

I know. And bubbee, I say this from the deepest part of my heart...what are you waiting for?

Complicated is better. Go back through your script and look for ways to combine, complicate and advance. You’ll surprise yourself at how much richer your story becomes.


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Lisa Phelps Dawes, President of Sceneplay, is an Emmy® award-winning writer/director helping screenwriters and producers rewrite their scripts using professional actors. If you’re ready for your scenes to jump to life, work three times harder, and get noticed, get your FREE tips now at
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