Watch any good movie and you’ll notice that in rare cases, movie characters never go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, or clip their toe nails. The reason most movies never show this type of mundane activity is because it’s irrelevant to the story.
Yet that’s exactly what too many novices do to fill out their screenplays. Read most screenplays written by novices and they’ll include scene after scene of characters doing nothing exciting except driving, eating, or walking.
All of this could be important, but in most cases, none of it is important. Take any scene and imagine the character going to the bathroom instead, and ask yourself if that changes the scene. If not, then that means your current scene isn’t important either.
Characters in movies never go to the bathroom because it rarely plays an important part of the story. That’s the same reason you never see movie characters lacing their shoes, doing laundry, or cleaning out their cat’s litter box. It’s because in most cases, these actions are unimportant to tell your story.
Every action in your screenplay must work towards supporting your story in some way. Any scene that fails to support your story simply doesn’t belong.
Instead of writing, stop and think first. Writing your screenplay should be the last thing you should ever do. The first thing you should always do is define your scene by explaining where it takes place, why it needs to take place in that location, and what happens in that scene. Only once you know can visualize your scene should you even start writing it in a screenplay format.
Defining your scene first will make it far easier to write it in as a screenplay. If you don’t know what happens in your scene, trying to figure that out while also capturing it in screenplay format means doing two things at once, and neither of them very well.
You can’t build a skyscraper without a plan so you should never write a scene without a plan either. By taking time to define your scene before you write it, you’ll reduce the chance of writing a pointless scene filled with meaningless action.