Stories Are About Change

Every story and every scene is about change. If something isn’t changing in your scenes, then your scenes don’t move the story forward. You can’t substitute mindless action for change. Change in every scene means one or more characters learns something new that keeps the story moving forward.

In “Paddington,” there’s a scene where Paddington the bear gets invited to the home of a family. This scene begins with Paddington in the bathroom where the father isn’t sure he wants a talking bear in the house. When Paddington floods the house, that changes the father’s mind from not being sure to completely being sure he doesn’t want Paddington around. That’s the kind of change every scene needs to create.

When designing a scene, start with the ending. In this “Paddington” scene, Paddington wrecks his chances of getting the father to accept him. Therefore at the beginning of the scene, the father should be on the verge of accepting Paddington. The second part of the scene shows Paddington slowly starting to mess up. The third part of the scene shows Paddington completely messing up by flooding the bathroom. Then the fourth and last part of the scene involves the father concluding Paddington has to go because he flooded the bathroom.

There’s another scene where Paddington has nearly burned down the house. The end of this scene is where the father gets everyone to agree that Paddington doesn’t belong, so the beginning of this scene is when everyone, including the father, has accepted Paddington as belonging. In this beginning, the family leaves Paddington alone to do research and Paddington looks like he’ll stay in the family.

The second part of this scene is where the villain learns that Paddington is alone and breaks into the home to kidnap him.

The third part of the scene is where Paddington saves himself but messes up the entire kitchen in the process

The fourth part of the scene (and the end of the scene) is where the family returns and doesn’t believe Paddington’s explanation. Since they think Paddington is lying, they all believe Paddington doesn’t belong with them.

That’s how you keep each scene moving the story forward. Start with the end, go back to the beginning and make sure the beginning is opposite of the ending, then fill in the gaps to show the gradual change from the beginning to the end.

Scene structure is just as important as story structure. In story structure, you plot your overall story. With scene structure, you meticulously design each scene to make it compelling, interesting, loaded with foreshadowing to link it to others scenes. When each scene is interesting and your entire story is interesting, your whole screenplay will likely be interesting as well.

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