How to Write a Scene in a Script: Switch Between Points of View

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Story" by Robert McKee. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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When you’re writing a script, how do you come up with compelling scenes? Is there a formula to follow?

In Story, Robert McKee breaks down how stories function and uses this theory to explain how you can write a gripping story—filled with compelling scenes. The book is intended for screenwriters, but its principles apply to any kind of storytelling.

Continue reading to learn how to write a scene in a script, and discover why this method is so impactful.

How to Write a Scene in a Script

McKee shares his advice on how to write a scene in a script. To create a scene that’s true to life, he says, you must create realistic beats. To do this, McKee recommends that you place your characters in a situation, then dive deep into your imagination to discover what you believe each character would authentically be thinking and feeling in that situation. Write down what action that character would honestly take.

Next, to make sure each beat advances your story, examine your scene objectively and imagine what could realistically happen that is the opposite of what your protagonist expects. Write this down, then return to the protagonist’s point of view and imagine their next move. Repeat until you reach a value change that marks the end of the scene. McKee asserts that this repeated oscillation between subjective and objective points of view is the key to writing compelling scenes.

McKee’s Process Fits the Way We Think

McKee’s scene-writing process makes sense when you consider how our brains work. In A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley explains that throughout the day, your brain naturally switches between two modes of thinking: focused-mode thinking, when you concentrate on executing a logical task; and diffuse-mode thinking, when you relax and let your mind wander. Oakley claims that the most effective way to solve a problem is to alternate between these two modes, taking a break from an intense logical task whenever you feel like you’re getting stuck.

Arguably, McKee’s scene-writing process is effective in part because it forces you to constantly switch between these two modes of thought. It’s primarily a diffuse-mode activity—you imagine what it would feel like to be someone else and record whatever feels natural. Then, you switch to focused mode and determine what the next unexpected story beat could be. Because you’re constantly switching into diffuse mode, where it feels like there are no wrong answers, you’ll be less likely to feel stuck than if you were to constantly be racking your brain for the next logical plot event.
How to Write a Scene in a Script: Switch Between Points of View

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert McKee's "Story" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Story summary:

  • A guide for screenwriters on how to write a gripping story
  • How to engage an audience on an emotional and intellectual level
  • The three-step process for how to write a story

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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