Breaking The Scene (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl — Pillow Talk)

Here’s a scene from a film that, despite it’s flaws, carries a hefty emotional punch thanks to the layered characters and their uniquely dramatic situation.

Scene Link:

Written By: Jesse Andrews

Scene Context:

Rachel has just been diagnosed with cancer. Greg has been tasked (by his mom) to hang out with her.

Scene Conflicts:

  • Greg wants to avoid awkward silence.
  • Rachel doesn’t have anything to say. Her and Greg are complete strangers.

Scene Outline:

  1. The pair enter Rachel’s room. Greg tries to compliment it, obviously just trying to fill out the silence.
  2. They sit on opposite ends of the bedroom. Long silence.
  3. Greg notes the amount of pillows she has. Says he wishes he had more pillows.
  4. Rachel offers he ask his parents for pillows. He tells her they’d think he’d be using them for self-arousal.
  5. He says those assumptions are false, then grabs one of Rachel’s pillows. Begins assigning a personality to it, discusses how he used to have a similar pillow, but they had to give it away.
  6. Greg continues, seeing Rachel is amused. He finishes the story.
  7. Rachel smiles to him, quiet. He apologizes, but she assures him it was a funny story.
  8. Greg gets a text from Earl to hang out.

Why It Works:

Protagonist’s Worst Nightmare: Greg is someone who feeling inadequate, so much so that he’s carefully built his life around being liked by everyone. This bleeds into scenes like this, in which Greg is made uncomfortable by any kind of silence implying one’s frustration with him. What this scene does so well is show just how far the character will go in order to be liked- this includes taking the risk of telling an utterly embarrassing (though likely false) story about himself in order to alleviate the tension in the room. His story not only confirms his need to be liked- it similarly showcases that Greg is willing to say to avoid discomfort.

Tension Imbued Scenario: A teenage girl and a teenage guy are left alone in a room together. This plain set-up already packs a fair amount of tension, but what this scene so wonderfully does is twist that tension by adding in a variety of different conflicts. We know that Greg is terribly awkward and a complete stranger to Rachel, on top of the fact that Rachel has just learned she has cancer. These details launch a shadow over the scene which it to curve away from cliche and become it’s own unique scene. By recognizing cliche, the scene ultimately avoids the potential misstep that would be forcing a needless romantic plotline, and instead embraces the much more natural tension imbued in these characters’ already strained relationship.

Context Creates Subtext: There’s a rather obvious cloud hanging over the entirety of this scene- Rachel has . Greg knows it, Rachel knows it, and the audience knows it. Everyone also knows that the reason Greg is there is out of his mom’s pity. But rather than force the scene to blatantly discuss this, the writer opts to have the characters talk about everything the cancer. This is another tool which makes Greg’s rambling even more intriguing- it comes as a way to specifically avoid the elephant in the room. Rachel’s appreciation for the anecdote is largely in response to this motivation- she’s happy to have something to distract her from her illness. Here, that is Greg.


This movie is by no means perfect, but finds great success when utilizing scenes like this which are entirely reliant on subtext. By throwing a massive elephant in the room and constantly forcing the characters to find creative yet desperate ways to talk around it, the writer is able to create a wonderfully engaging scene while simultaneously striking deep into the hearts of the characters.

A writer! What am I writing about? Well, a lot of things, most of them being related to Screenwriting. Hope you like what you see!