Scene Cards: A Screenwriter's Best Friend

Scene Cards: A Screenwriter’s Best Friend

One of the most important parts of developing a screenplay is writing the scene cards. This consists of the breakdown of each scene, one per note card, via a few sentences. It’s where you really flesh out what works and what doesn’t work and it gives you a chance to have a concrete idea of what you are writing about. It also allows you to make sure you hit every story point. So, here are some fun tips for writing your scene cards:

  1. Not Just For Note Cards

Though I do love to use note cards for this step because they are easy to rearrange when you feel a scene is better someplace else in the story, and they force you to keep the descriptions short, I have also enjoyed using a giant whiteboard. With the whiteboard, you don’t have to worry about keeping things in order. It can be a pain when you want to switch scenes around, but it’s a great visual piece and it makes me feel like I’m in Good Will Hunting. Still make sure each column is labeled ACT 1, ACT 2, and so on so that you can keep a running count on how many scenes are in each act. I also recommend taping note cards to a whiteboard so that you can see everything laid out in an organized fashion, but don’t have to deal with the hassle of erasing and rewriting. Just make sure to number the note cards. Also, if you have the latest version of Final Draft, you can create scene cards in the program and then have them translated into an actual scene. I don’t suggest starting with this, because it doesn’t feel like a good visual to me, but it could be something to use if you want to transfer your cards to your screenplay.

  1. Color Code

It can be frustrating to balance every storyline and sometimes the c and d plot lines are forgotten or the supporting characters are only used to interact with the protagonist. This issue prevents the story from being multidimensional and even causes it to be a bit shallow at times. The best way to prevent this imbalance is by color coding your scenes via plot lines when you create your scene cards. If you go with the note card approach, use different colored highlighters. If you choose to write on a whiteboard, use different colored markers, and if you type it up, use the highlighter feature or the font color feature. Then, at the end of each act, take a step back and tally up how many scenes you have for each plot and compare the numbers in each act.

  1. Just Write

I don’t care if you think the scene isn’t going to add to the story or if you’re unsure about how to connect different plot lines, create a card for the scenes anyway. It’s the easiest way to discover if things work without actually wasting time because it’s just a few sentences long. It also allows you to follow a few different paths for your characters. Then, as you continue with the scene cards, you’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. Remember, it’s better to make more cards than necessary because it gets your creativity flowing and if they don’t end up working, you can just scrap them.

  1. Keep It Simple

This is not the time to go into the detail of every scene, that’s what the draft is for. For the scene cards, I want 1-3 sentences MAX per scene. You’re going to want to elaborate, I know I always do, but you need to stop yourself. This process is not meant for you go through every theme or tone, but to get your plot points down and move on. It’s cut and dry so that you don’t get caught up in other aspects of the story. Plot points only!

There are some writers who don’t like to take the extra step to write scene cards. If it isn’t your thing, that’s totally fine. Do what works for you, but I honestly think that this is such an important part of the writing process. To have a visual, concrete breakdown of each scene really allows you to evaluate the bigger picture instead of getting caught up in the little things or the undertones of the script. It also makes the writing of the actual script less daunting because you already have an idea of every scene. What a great asset! So I urge you to at least try this process and see if it is something that really adds to the creation of your story.


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