Screenwriting II — Week 8 — Spring 2014

March 18, 2014

Hello everyone,

As you’re working on your assignment — ACT I / Step Outline (aka Beat Sheet) — here are some of the points we went over in class.

Step Outline / Beat Sheet

Step Or Scene?

Movie Outline uses “Steps” instead of “Scenes” which may confuse some screenwriters who are used to
using scenes in relation to film timing and screenplay layout, but the difference is actually quite simple to

A “Step” in Movie Outline really means an “Event” in the progression of your story, and this means that
each step can consist of more than one “Scene”. A Montage sequence is one good example or:
Joe leaves his apartment, gets in his car, drives to the bank.

Although in a screenplay this totals three scenes, in a step-outline it is only one step since the nature of
creating a step-outline dictates that you focus on the main story event and do not get into too much detail.
Unless something big happens to Joe while he is getting into his car, the scene can be described within the
overall event. What then happens when Joe enters the bank is another step, and so on.

Another example could be a car chase. In a screenplay, each location that the cars involved in the chase
pass through is technically a scene, but since we’re dealing with the same story event, the entire chase and
collection of scenes is referred to as a step.

Or suppose your screenplay has your Hero bravely dashing into a burning building to save a child while
other fire-fighters frantically do their best to put out the blaze. Technically, each room your Hero searches
in constitutes a scene, and every time we cut back to the other fire-fighters, they are separate scenes too, but
when planning your story, it is much easier to think of this as one single event and as such, a single step.

Clear now?

Here’s an example  BEAT SHEET-ThelmaandLouise.pdf

Indicate the act and sequence number


Sequence I

1.  Mary enters her office, takes off her shoes, drops down on the couch and begins to weep.

Some people prefer to use sluglines for each beat / scene. And that’s fine too.


Mary enters, takes off her shoes, drops down on the couch and begins to weep.

Here’s another example:

MehdiTime-Beat Sheet .pdf

When you introduce a new character, CAPITALIZE her name. Note that you don’t need to describe the character’s physical appearance, personality, etc. You’ve already done that in your synopsis. You know your characters by now and so do we.

How to Contstruct a Scene:

This is from John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story:


We didn’t get a chance to discuss Avatar. We will do it on Monday.

Happ writing.


Screenwriting II — Week 8

October 31, 2013

Hello everyone,

In class we talked about dialogue.

What is the difference between dialogue and conversation? Conversation is real, everyday talk. DIALOGUE IS NOT REAL TALK.  Dialogue is highly selective, often heightened language that has the illusion of being real. Even if it has pauses and sighs and many other infusions of “reality”, the words the actors speak have been well structured and organized by the writer (or they should have been, unless you’re watching an experimental film.) Even John Cassavetes (Woman Under the Influence, Shadows, Faces, and many others) said that he writes his dialogue very carefully and it takes him a long time to decide what to include. He lets his actors improvise — but upon blocks of language that has been written and stylized by the writer.

Have you ever listened to a piece of improvisational jazz? Even the craziest solos that go off in different directions adhere to a melody/theme that has been worked out in advance and which the musicians  come back to during their improvisations. Unless, again, we’re talking about an avant-garde piece, then anything goes. That too is interesting and valuable in its own way,  but we shouldn’t concern ourselves with it in this class.

Good dialogue is more intelligent and wittier than real life conversation. But what is the function of dialogue?  It should advance the story and give depth to the characters. It should not, however, do what structure is meant to do.

Some people have a talent for writing dialogue. But like the rest of us, they have to develop their “dialogue writing” skills by  doing exercises, reading as many screenplays as they can get their hands on, and writing as many screenplays as they can.

Here are a few tips for writing dialogue that sounds “real”.

1. Know your characters. Who is talking? A mobster, a still college professor, a cop? All three should sound differently.

2. Use contractions (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t) unless your character is making a formal speech.

3. You character should interrupt one another.

3. Use an occasional “beat” or “pause”.


In class we did two exercises:

1. Break up scene. This scene should not be in the story you’re writing. This exercise is to help you understand your character.

Your main character (protagonist)  or your main opponent (antagonist) is breaking up with someone. Preferably a lover. But it could be a close friend or a family member. Someone the character knows well. Put him or her on a bench somewhere or in some eatery, and have them work out their feelings through dialogue. The scene shouldn’t be longer than two or three pages. Use standard screenplay format.

2. Monologue scene. Have your main character or opponent present an intelligent and passionate argument for something he or she is totally against. If your character is a liberal, have her argue a conservative point of view. If your character is pro-choice, have him argue the pro-life position. Choose any argument you like.

Put ONE  exercise of your choice  in your group folder on Blackboard and label it EXERCISE.

Those of you who have not turned in their Sequence Assignments on Monday, be sure to upload them to Blackboard ASAP (if you want to get a grade).

Your assignment for Monday, Nov. 4:

Vogler: Ordinary World through Refusal of the Call (81-117)

McKee: Chapters 12-16

See you Monday.