A screenplay is made up of a lot of different pieces: acts, sequences, scenes, etc. Think of them as multi-sized blocks that you must stack, tear down, rearrange, and throw away until what you have before you looks something like a story. But before you can enjoy the tedious task of formation, you have to create these pieces, or blocks, from scratch. To help with this, screenwriter and frequent Tim Burton collaborator, John August (Big Fish, Corpse Bride), whose blog you should be reading religiously, released a handy infographic/PDF of his popular post "How to Write a Scene" that gives screenwriters an easy checklist of 11 bullet points that helps guide them through the process.
Now, this is one of those resources I've always wanted to refer to when I write -- a simple, easy to follow list that will help me to not only start the process of building individual scenes, but to generate more ideas for the story as a whole. But let me say this; people certainly work and create in different ways -- some might find a checklist confining -- but for those whose ideas are like a billion billowing 19th century locomotives careening thither and yon simultaneously inside our poor, squishy encephalons (*takes a breath*), August's simplified guide on how to write a scene is a helpful tool.
We've shared the first page of the infographic below, which contains the first 6 bullet points -- really questions that you should ask yourself when writing a scene, including basic things like what needs to happen and who needs to be in the scene. As you go down the list, however, namely on the second page, August gives you ideas on how to conceptualize scenes, like brainstorming and writing a "scribble" version.
Granted, this checklist isn't the be-all-end-all on how to write a scene, and I don't think that's what August intended it to be. It's the buoy out in the ocean; it might save you from drowning, but it won't get you back on land. Furthermore, writing, like any art form, can't be put inside a box, unpacked, and assembled according to a set of directions like a piece of IKEA furniture. The process of storytelling is different for everyone and every time. It can be complicated or simple. It can be the result of an overflowing imagination or a logical system of ideas. Whichever way you write your screenplays, we all write them one scene at a time, so it really doesn't matter if you get there in 1 step (write it!) or 11.
I'd highly suggest trying out August's checklist on a few scenes to see if it helps you, especially if you're finding it difficult to even organize your ideas enough to get them down on the page.
[ Typewriter image from Flickr user Cody Geary]