How To End a Screenplay Scene


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As Seen On
by Naomi Write + Co. in rewriting, screenwriting

If you are an introverted writer-type (no judgement – I’m describing myself here too), you may be familiar with the French Exit or Irish Goodbye. Two names for the same thing: the act of leaving (a party, a gathering, etc.) without notifying others of your departure. Leaving without saying proper goodbyes.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that newer writers sometimes take a similar approach to leaving their scenes. So today let’s zoom in and talk about a very specific piece of the screenplay puzzle: “scene outs,” or how to end a scene effectively.

Is the end of the scene really that important?

Weak scene outs diminish the impact of the scene by leaving the audience unsure of what to think or feel about what we’re seeing.

An effective scene out, on the other hand, gives the audience a nice little feeling of resolution that wraps up the mini-story of that scene, and invites us to keep reading what comes next.

Unfortunately, many writers never think about the importance of scene endings. Or, if they do think about them, it’s only in terms of the occasional clever transition.

There’s more to ending a scene than CUT TO

The most common advice related to how to end a scene is “get out early.” And it is true that you don’t want to overstay your welcome. (Let a scene go on longer than it needs to, that is.) But in adhering to this advice, sometimes writers shortchange their scenes by not really landing the scene anywhere.

If there’s more to ending a scene than just cutting to the next one, what exactly does a scene out need to do?

There are two targets to hit with your scene outs: (1) wrap it up, and (2) invite us to keep going.

That’s it. Nothing complicated. And once you’re aware of it, I think you’ll see it’s a simple way to improve the quality of your scenes and screenplay overall. (That’s why I’m including it in the Tweak & Polish series!)

To make sure your scene outs are effective, though, there are actually three things we want to think about.

1. What is the point of the scene?

Before the scene ends, it needs to accomplish whatever point it’s meant to fulfill in the screenplay. (Obviously.) That could be to move the plot in a particular way, or push the character along their arc, or both. Sometimes that happens through information provided to the character or to the audience or both, or it might be a plot event that either helps the character make progress or creates a setback.

So, first things first, understand what the point is of this scene you’re writing. You have to know what you’re trying to do in order to know whether you’ve done it.

2. How will you resolve the action of the scene?

Whatever the point of the scene is, you’ll accomplish it through some action that plays out on screen. You’re writing a movie, after all – we have to see it.

So there’s what the scene needs to accomplish (the point of the scene), and there’s how it does that (the action of the scene).​

Once the point of the scene is accomplished, the action needs to be wrapped up in a way that gives us that little feeling of resolution or closure. This tells us that the scene is done and over and we can move on.

Sometimes just achieving the point of the scene is enough, but sometimes we need something additional to bring it to a close. Some clever or stylish beat to tie a bow on the action.

3. Where are we going next?

Finally, we need some direction to continue the journey. Some guide or enticement to lead us forward in the story.

This can be particularly true if the scene goal is achieved successfully. Because, then what? If the character got what they wanted or solved their problem, where are they (and we) supposed to go next? Letting us know where we’re headed or what they’re going to pursue now helps keep the momentum alive. (And unless the character has achieved their story goal at this point, there should be more to do!)

If the character didn’t achieve their scene goal the next steps may be more obvious, but we still need to put something on the page (and in the scene) to lead the audience onward. Some indication of what the character may do now, or even a cliffhanger or question to lure us in the right direction, helps to propel the reader into the next scene.

A closer look at an effective scene out

If you read the last article, you’ll be familiar with this short series of scenes from the Jungle Cruise script. Let’s look at the last scene here, pages 17-21.

    • The point of this scene is for protagonists Lily and Frank to join forces.
    • When Frank says, “You got a deal,” the point of the scene has been accomplished.
    • MacGregor shakes Frank’s hand (a nice physical gesture to tie the bow on what’s happened), and Frank gives instructions for their next meeting. This concludes the “will they work together” portion.
    • What leads us onward is Lily’s new suspicion, despite being successful at achieving her scene goal. These bits hint to us the new direction:

      ​”Lily just stares, sensing there’s more to Frank’s change of heart than money.

      She nods, still skeptical.

      LILY: …Perhaps there’s more to you than I thought, Captain.

      They walk off. But we LINGER on Frank, watching them go…” 

      It all adds up to give us a sense of the direction we’re headed next and offers an enticing invitation to keep reading.

Knowing the end gives you something to write toward

While most Tweak + Polish tips are meant for later drafts, after you’ve worked out the foundational stuff, this tip (#11 in the series!) is one that you may want to think about while you’re drafting pages.

Just like knowing the end of the screenplay gives you something to write toward, knowing the scene out gives you a beacon to aim for as you’re writing a scene. And taking care to land each scene will create more impact and a better experience for the reader, as well.

Find the rest of the Tweak + Polish tips here:

1: Cut Redundant Dialogue
2: Don’t Summarize, Dramatize
3: Write for Continuity
4: Digestible Sentences
5: The Dialogue Pass
6: Filmic Word Order
7: Laughter With Purpose
8: Weak, Wasted, or Redundant?
9: Start Scenes in Motion
10: Make Pauses and Beats Pull Their Weight


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.