Top Five Scene Pacing Tips: How to Pace the Scene

Whether you are writing a commercial or independent film and regardless of the genre, a successful screenplay requires good scene pacing. An attention-grabbing screenplay contains a solid ticking clock that will inspire the reader to want to turn the pages to find out what’s going to happen next.

Scene Arcs
Scenes must have a complete arc—a solid beginning, middle, and end. Characters’ journeys drive the script’s narrative, and each scene must steer their journey forward.

Scene Objective
Scenes must have a reason to exist. Each scene must somehow advance the narrative through both dialogue and visual storytelling.

Sleepless in Seattle Example

In the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle (directed by Nora Ephron, screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, and Jeff Arch) reporter Annie Reed crosses the country to meet a man she has never met after hearing his young son on a call-in radio show, seeking help to find a new wife for his widowed father.

In this scene example we find Annie and Barbara, having a warm mother/daughter talk in the attic.

The Scene Objective: Annie starts reexamining her feelings about her fiancé Walter.

Here’s the scene:

While trying on her grandmother’s wedding dress, the newly engaged Annie tells her mother, Barbara, about how she and her fiancé, Walter, met. Mother and daughter differ when it comes to believing in destiny, signs, and magic in a relationship—Barbara is a believer while Annie is a pragmatist. The scene concludes as Annie, wearing her grandmother’s wedding dress, hugs her mother and the dress rips. Annie now believes in signs.

Scene Arc

In the beginning of the scene, Annie doesn’t believe in destiny and expresses her certainty about her upcoming marriage to Walter. By the end of the scene, Annie is having some subtle doubts when she realizes that she doesn’t have the same type of magic with Walter that her mother felt for her father when they met, and Annie is beginning to believe in destiny.

Top Five Scene Pacing Tips

1. Get to the objective of each scene quickly and then cut out of the scene as close to the action as possible; this does not mean that your script needs to be fast-paced — be true to your story and style.

2. Examine the objective of each scene in your screenplay and use this as your guidepost for pacing.

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