In my post on How to write a scene, I showed the “scribble version” of a scene as an example of the process. In hindsight, it was a little unfair to show the bones and not show the body. So here’s the scribble version again, followed by the final scene. On real paper, it runs exactly two pages.
DUNCAN waiting edge of seat
I was one of the doctors who worked on your wife accident injuries severe, trauma team, sorry, couldn’t save her.
nature of injuries, concern fetus wouldn’t survive in utero. paramedic able deliver caesarian boy healthy
(nodding not hearing)
nurse can take you to see him, know a lot to handle
a lot to handle
take me to see him?
your son. paramedic was able to
I know this may seem
My wife wasn’t pregnant
Your wife didn’t tell you...
My wife has never been pregnant. been trying three years. fertility clinic last week
I examined the baby myself. nearly at term.
I don’t know whose baby, not hers.
INT. ER WAITING ROOM – NIGHT
PAUL DUNCAN, 38, sits on the edge of his seat, vigilant. He watches every DOCTOR and NURSE who passes, waiting for the one who will talk to him. Finally, he notices the TRIAGE NURSE speaking with a doctor, GERALD ITO. The coordinator hands him a patient folder, then gestures towards the waiting room. Duncan stands as the doctor approaches.
Ito speaks with a practiced calm, making horrible news sound straightforward:
Mr. Duncan, I’m Dr. Ito. I was one of the doctors who worked on your wife.
They said she was in an accident.
Her injuries were severe. The trauma team did everything they could. I’m sorry. We couldn’t save her.
Duncan nods. He wasn’t expecting to hear she was alive, but he had held out some hope.
Almost by reflex, Duncan sits down. Ito joins him.
Because of the nature of the injuries, there was concern the fetus wouldn’t survive in utero. The paramedic was able to deliver the baby by Caesarian section. It’s a boy. Healthy and stable.
Duncan just keeps nodding. It’s not clear how much he’s hearing.
If you’d like, in a few minutes, I can have a nurse take you up to see him. Or if you’d like to wait, I understand. This is a lot to handle.
Duncan looks at the doctor strangely.
What did you say?
I said, this is a lot to handle all at once.
You would take me to see him?
The paramedic was able to deliver the baby your wife was carrying. He’s healthy.
A beat. Duncan suddenly grabs the folder Ito is holding. He checks the name: Pamela Lynn Duncan. What’s more, her driver’s license is clipped to the file.
I know this may seem unreal. A dream. That’s very common in a situation like...
My wife wasn’t pregnant.
Choosing his words carefully...
Your wife didn’t tell you she was pregnant?
My wife has never been pregnant. We’ve been trying for three years. We were at the fertility clinic last week.
Trying to remain calm...
Mr. Duncan, I examined the baby myself. It looked to be nearly at term.
I don’t know whose baby that was. It wasn’t hers.
Why this scene? Well, I picked it because it’s pretty self-contained, and doesn’t feature any characters who had been set up earlier. It’s also an example of how the purpose of a scene is what you need the audience to learn, not necessarily your protagonist. The hero is not even in the scene, and these two characters never appear again.