Forward Momentum

Here is our…

Screenwriting Tip of the Week

Last week, we talked about editing. This week, let’s talk about a related subject:


Does every scene move the story forward? Does it advance the plot or give us new insight into a character?

In a perfect world, it should do both at the same time. In practical terms: if cutting a particular scene wouldn’t change the story or the audience’s understanding of the movie, then this scene serves no purpose and should be cut.

Every scene should also do double duty. In some genres (i.e. dramas,) you have a bit more leeway because they are more forgiving about protagonists having revealing heart-to-hears with other characters. However, with most genres the story shouldn’t stop because “wait for it, here comes the character moment.” The story should serve to reveal the character.

What choices does your protagonist make in order to reach their goal? If faced with different opportunities, which will they pick? How do they get out of a particularly tight spot? What compromises are they willing to make to get what they want? The forward momentum of the story should be the character development.

If you’re already established and pulling down the big paydays, well, do what you want. Buuut if you’re trying to break in:

As writers, we often tend towards overwriting, thinking that every “Good morning, how are you?” needs to go into the script (hint: they don’t,) and even more often we have scenes that simply “sit there,” as they say. Again: If we could remove this or that scene and it wouldn’t change the story one iota that’s when we need to cut. Yes, you probably love that scene and worked hard at it, and it reads beautifully. But, as they say, writing means “killing your darlings.”

Sometimes we get so caught up in the world we’ve created that we go off on tangents by following secondary characters and subplots that don’t have anything to do with our protagonist or our story at hand. Is your main character off-screen for more than a few pages? Your protagonist should be driving the action, and that means they need to be in the movie. Unless the subplot is directly related to the protagonist, you should ask yourself, “Do I really need this stuff? Is it causing the audience to lose track of my hero?”

Breaking down your scenes on index cards and color-coding them by character is a great way to see when a main character is off-screen for too long. It’s not easy, but it pays to be ruthless with yourself.


As you already know, we’re always here for questions (and the answers are free).

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