Script Analysis: “A Monster Calls” — Scene By Scene Breakdown

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read.

Today: A scene-by-scene breakdown of the script for the movie A Monster Calls, screenplay by Patrick Ness, based on his novel.

IMDb plot summary: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother's terminal illness.

The scene-by-scene breakdown was prepared by Andrew Turner.

Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:

After a first pass, it's time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.

For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script's structure and themes.

The value of this exercise:

  • We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.
  • By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.
  • A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.

You may download a free, legal PDF of the script for A Monster Calls here.

A Monster Calls
Scene by Scene Breakdown
by Andrew Turner

Pages 1–5: The Protagonist, CONOR O'MALLEY, is introduced waking up from a NIGHTMARE. He sneaks into Mum's bedroom and goes to sleep with her. MUM is very far along with her cancer but neither of them lets it interfere with their very close relationship.

6–9: The morning after, Conor wakes up and gets himself ready for school. He struggles to be self-reliant.

10–16: GRANDMA is introduced and she is very professional and "un-grandmotherly" which makes the relationship between her and Conor strained. She seems to struggle more with Mum's illness than Conor appears to.

17–18: Mum is seen for the first time fully awake and out of bed. She tells Conor Grandma will be helping them for a few days then Conor denies they need help.

19–21: Conor walks to school and looks in an ART SHOP window and sees PENCILS he obviously wants. He avoids his friend, LILY.

22–24: Once at school, Conor is bullied by HARRY. Harry makes a comment about Mum and Lily tries to help but Conor still avoids and ignores her.

25–27: Class with MR. CLARK. The class is watching a boring childbirth documentary and Conor's attention begins to drift. Mr. Clark starts to try to help Conor with coping but stops just short.

28–31: Conor returns home and helps Mum put together an old Super 8 projector and they start to watch an old black and white version of King Kong. Mum falls asleep but Conor watches until the end.

32–38: Conor is VERY passionate about drawing and gets lost in it. Conor draws his nightmare. Mum, also loves drawing, is very impressed.

39–46: Conor continues drawing late into the night and hears something. He looks out the window and sees a YEW TREE. Suddenly the tree turns into a MONSTER. Monster reveals that he has three stories for Conor then Conor will tell the Monster a fourth.

47–67: Grandma brings Mum some obnoxious wigs and makes Mum and Conor eat healthy. After Mum starts to get sick Grandma announces Conor might have to move in with her which Conor doesn't take well. Grandma tries to do the right thing but Mum would rather be happy.

68: Grandma stays in Conor's room.

69–74: Conor sleeps in the sitting room then wakes and exits to the back garden after 12:07.

75–99: The Monster tells the first tale of a King, Queen, Witch, and Prince. The lesson of the first tale is good and evil isn't always black and white. Most people lie somewhere in between.

100–101: Conor stops by the art shop again looking at the same pencils. Lily arrives and forgives Conor for the other day but Conor blames Lily and her mother for the whole school knowing of Mum's illness.

102–104: Conor's in class and again his attention drifts but Mr. Clark lets him get away with it. Harry notices this.

105–107: Harry punches Conor.

108–113: Mum and Grandma announce that Conor's Dad is coming from America and Conor will be staying with Grandma while Mum goes back to the hospital. Mum warns Conor of GRANDMA's CLOCK.

114–121: Conor arrives at Grandma's house which is not grandchild friendly. Grandma leaves Conor and goes to the hospital. Conor explores the house and finds a loft with the door locked.

122–127: DAD arrives. Dad might be a little immature, has a distant relationship with his son. Dad reveals to Conor that he has a new family in America. He tells Conor he needs to be brave.

128–141: Conor is angry and it grows. He starts to play with Grandma's clock until it breaks and the hands land on 12:07. The Monster arrives and tells the second tale of a bitter APOTHECARY and a PARSON. The lesson of the second tale is that belief is important and you should be careful where and in whom you put it.

142: Monster awaits Conor's instructions as to what to destroy. The more the Monster destroys the better Conor feels.

143–145: Suddenly Conor's back at Grandma's and nearly everything is destroyed. Then Grandma returns, already worried and upset, and is horrified. Then she pushes the only thing left untouched, a display cabinet, over.

146–149: The morning after, Dad is back and tells Conor about Mum's worsening condition and reaffirms that he needs to be brave. Dad also tells Conor he won't be punished.

150–153: Dad lets Conor miss school and they spend some quality time together. Conor seems happy. Dad eventually tells Conor about him and Mum and how they weren't meant to be together.

154–157: Conor visits Mum at the hospital. He sees she's sicker and weaker. She mentions a new medicine from Yew Trees and that she believes it could work which reminds Conor of the second tale.

158–161: Back at Grandma's, the time is 12:07 and Conor runs to the Monster wanting him to cure Mum. The Monster reveals it isn't up to him.

162: Conor hears Grandma watching TV and what could be his voice. He wants to see what she is watching but he doesn't want to disturb her.

163–165: Conor notices Grandma's different behavior as she drops him off at school.

166: Again, Conor drifts from the lesson as Harry studies him more.

167–174: Conor secretly watches Grandma emerge from the loft with her hands full. Grandma returns to the TV room and Conor hears his voice again but this time slowly opens the door. Grandma's watching old home videos of Mum and Conor.

175–180: Dad announces he's leaving and tells Conor the truth: that the medicine isn't really working and that Conor needs to be brave.

181–191: As days' pass, Conor visits Mum who is getting worse, Conor ignores Lily, Conor visits the art shop but the pencils are gone, Conor wheels the trash from Grandma's sitting room to the curb, Conor drifts from the lesson and again gets away with it.

192–198: Conor is in the cafeteria when Harry dumps Orange juice into his lap then Harry tells Conor he is invisible. As the bullies turn away, the time turns to 12:07 and the Monster appears and tells the third tale: an invisible man who has grown tired of being unseen. Then Conor attacks Harry.

199: After talking with the principal Conor goes back to class and Lily passes him a note but he is unable to open it before the secretary calls him.

200–204: Grandma leads Conor to Mum's hospital room. Mum is much worse and reveals the treatment from the Yew Tree isn't working and there aren't any more left. Mum tells Conor it's okay to be angry.

205–225: Conor runs all the way to his house right to the Yew Tree. Conor is very upset and angry at the Monster and the Monster reveals he has come to heal him not her. And Conor tells the fourth tale: the nightmare. Conor confesses to letting Mum go and wanting it to be over. The Monster responds by telling Conor thoughts aren't important, actions are.

226–229: Grandma finds Conor asleep at the Yew Tree and speeds back to the hospital. During the drive Conor opens the note from Lily which says she sees him. Then Conor apologizes to Grandma and they admit they do have some things in common, most notably: Mum.

230–233: Grandma and Conor make it back to Mum's hospital room minutes before 12:07. The Monster helps Conor towards Mum and holds onto to her so he can let her go.

234–237: Grandma and Conor return to Grandma's house and Grandma gives Conor the loft bedroom which is filled with drawing supplies, including the pencils from the art shop, and sketchpads including Mum's old pad which include drawings of the three tales as well as the Monster.

Writing Exercise: I encourage you to read the script, but short of that, if you've seen the movie, go through this scene-by-scene breakdown. What stands out to you about it from a structural standpoint? Click on RESPONSE and let us hear your thoughts.

If you'd like to download a PDF of the scene-by-scene breakdown of A Monster Calls, click here.

Major kudos to Andrew Turner for doing today's breakdown.

For those folks who volunteer to write a scene-by-scene breakdown, beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and your own personal dose of creative juju, you will learn something about story structure and further develop this important skill set.

Here is our current list of literary heroes and heroines!

A Monster Calls / Andrew Turner

Anthropoid / Marija Nielsen

Arrival / Ashish Chand

Captain Fantastic / Despina Karintis

Denial / Gina Gomez

Eye in the Skye / Abhinav Tiwari and Bruce Gordon

Fences / Matt Cowley

The Founder / Eric Rodriguez

Hail, Caesar! / Brianne VanTuyle

Hell or High Water / Andrew Lightfoot

The Invitation / Joni Trumpold Brainerd

Jackie / Karen Dantas

Kubo and the Two Strings / Nikki Syreeta

La La Land / Priya Gopal

Loving / Liz Correal

Maggie's Plan / Monique Mata

Manchester by the Sea / Ashley Lara

Miles Ahead / Alecia Hodges

Moonlight / Ryan Canty

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 / Nikki Leydecker

The Secret Life of Pets / Paul Huffman

Victor Frankenstein / Lisa Gomez

Zootopia / Will King

Italics = Turned in scene-by-scene breakdown

Bold = Have used scene-by-scene breakdown in week-long analysis

To check out the site's library of 46 movie script scene-by-scene breakdowns, click here.

Now is YOUR chance to contribute to this most worthy cause and provide an additional resource for the online screenwriting community.

Even if you do not participate in the analysis, discussion, or write up a scene-by-scene breakdown, I strongly encourage you to read scripts. It's an invaluable learning tool.

Script Analysis: "A Monster Calls" — Scene By Scene Breakdown was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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