One of the most important steps in the process of going story to script is identifying connecting lines of story that have no drama. Some of the stacks, or columns of your index cards might show only outcomes of scenes or the purpose of a scene without set-ups. Try putting a slug line at the other side of cards that describe scenes. Since a scene is anything that happens at the same time and place in your script, a slugline is basically an indicator of when and where your scene is happening. A scene in the shooting script of Airplane! is marked by this slugline:
INT. DR. TURNANSKY’S OFFICE – NIGHT
INT. tells the reader that the scene is indoors, while EXT. means outdoors (interior/exterior). The next segment of the slugline gives the location, and the final segment the time of day, usually DAY or NIGHT. The purpose of a slugline is to efficiently convey information about when where and how a scene is to be shot. In some cases additional information may be required on a slugline in parentheses. If the scene is in a moving vehicle you would say: INT. BATMOBILE – NIGHT (MOVING).
Once you get sluglines on all the cards you can, think about how these scenes fit together on your protagonist’s journey. Look for trials for your characters to face, and key moments that need to occur for the story to be told. If you have a card that lists a discovery or outcome, go back and determine the event that leads to that outcome. Think about the where and when and give sluglines to each of those other cards. Write names of all the characters in the scene underneath the slugline to get a sense of where they are and who is missing. Some scenes my not require description. You could say “They fight,” for example without going into depth. on the other hand, if you have someone dreaming, you can’t just say “He Dreams.” If you haven’t explored what he is dreaming, then you won’t be able to write a scene about it.
When all of the cards have a slugline and characters, you’ll have a thoroughly mapped out story ready to become a script. Each card in front of you is going to become a 2 to 5 page scene. A scene’s anatomy is made up of a slugline, action, character names and dialogue. The action describes whats going on in the scene and includes set pieces, character entrances and exits, blocking, and props. Calling shots is not necessary and neither are the parentheticals that tell how an actor says their line. What’s important, however, is telling as rich a story with each scene as you intend to tell with your whole script.
It is easy to start writing your script and be really thorough with your first couple of scenes only to lose interest in the specifics and focus solely on dialogue. Don’t do that. Every slugline in your deck of cards should fall subject to the recipe of a scene. First, you’ll want to establish the set pieces, props, characters, blocking. New characters are introduced in all caps. Descriptions of a character should be short and illustrate just the primary points that your audience needs to know. You need to also think about what the characters want and the obstacles pushing against them. Your protagonist does not have to succeed in getting what he wants, but he does have to try for it against some opposition.
Each scene, like any good story, should have at least on turning point, or a “but then” moment. As in Striker tells Elaine he can change, but then refuses to confront his past. Later in the scene, his belief that he has a choice in the matter is challenged when he talks about his war record, but then Elaine suggests his record since the war is what’s hurting him. Because it is not the whole story every scene, even the first one, should have a moment before and a moment after. Sometimes, this is achieved by writing a scene, but actually having the scene not start until after page or two. you should only be getting into the scene where it’s getting interesting. Any set up should have happened in the previous scene, so don’t lose speed or waste time by setting the stage for a scene you should just jump straight into.
You will also want to play off of the concept of the moment before or after by consciously hooking your scenes together by raising questions the following scenes will answer. A button is also necessary only this is put at the end of a scene to give it a satisfactory close. If there is a moment after and there is, then the scene needs to effectively end early. By giving it a button, you signal the end of the scene. By giving it a hook, you drive the plot forward from the current scene to the next. Be sure to always be honest. Great material comes from how deep you are willing to journey within yourself and how open you are with your audience. Let the humanity of the characters exude, but always try to keep things interesting, even at their expense.
When you put this amount of thought into the composition of all of your scenes, including “but then” twists, obstacles, motives, buttons, and hooks among the set pieces, blocking and characters your story will be well on its way to becoming a compelling script. The only thing left to do is study dialogue.