Writing Story Beats

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When writing a screenplay, by writing story beats first, it helps you organize your thoughts into a more coherent form. Once you complete writing the story beats, you can then begin writing each scene for your screenplay. By following this approach, you will find that you have a road map to follow with respect to your story beats. So, much of your grunt work goes into the story beats, while most of your creative work goes into the writing of each scene.

Story beats should show each scene in brief form. They do not have to be written in perfect grammar. They simply need to be written down in order. Story beats can be looked upon as idea beats. You have an idea for a scene. What should take place in that scene.? “Oh, yeah, this, this, and this.” Bang! You’ve written your story beats for the first scene. A word of caution, always enter your scene at the last moment and get out of the scene as soon as you can.

For example, on page 1/minute 1 of my screenplay/movie, “The Caller”, I introduce the setting. I introduce the main character. I show what she does as a professional. I show how she acts and reacts around other people. Bang! I move to the next page/scene. The story beats are: Introduce the setting. Introduce the main character. Show what she does as a professional. Show how she acts and reacts around other people. Get out, move to the next page/scene.

Once you get some story beats down, you will find that ideas come up where you want to write more in story beats you’ve already written. So, do that. If you want to expound on the setting, e.g., then add to introduce the setting, behind the stage of a fashion show. Then, get back to your story beats for the scene on which you are presently working.

Writing story beats are refreshing and very helpful to writing a multi-dimensional screenplay, something for which every screenwriter should strive.

Story beats 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...

“How To Establish the Dramatic Premise of your Screenplay and Beyond”

by Donald L. Vasicek

So, you began your screenplay with a visual metaphor. You’ve
introduced your main character, the setting, the time, the theme, and
you’re introducing other major and periphery characters. You’re
getting to like your story pretty well, when all of sudden you hit a
block. What is your story about?

This question is asked many times over each day in the film business.
So, you’d better be prepared for it. Your story is about a character
who reacts to something that causes him (I’m using the male gender
because I honestly don’t know what is correct when writing articles.
Someone please tell me how to deal with this so I can be
grammatically and politically correct.) to begin acting instead of
reacting to what is going on around him. The first step in your main
character’s transformation (you’d better have one if you want to sell
and get your screenplays produced)is when he reacts to the
introduction of the dramatic premise. Until this time in your
screenplay, you should have established your main character who
should be in a setting and time interacting with other characters who
should all be showing (I emphasize “showing” instead of “telling”
since all great writing “shows” instead of “tells”) different aspects
of your theme. You should have established all of these elements by
about page 10 of your screenplay.

On or about page 10 in your screenplay, you show something that
occurs that is out of context of what you have set up so far. This
turning point in your screenplay is when you have your main character
react to something that establishes the dramatic premise of your
screenplay. This dramatic premise will be the plot of your
screenplay. Something happens to your main character that begins his
transformation arc because he is forced to react to something he has
been avoiding, but he must react to it until he overcomes it, or it
his life will never change for the better.

In the $56 million MGM screenplay I was a writer/consultant for,
“Warriors of Virtue”, Ryan, the main character is shown in school,
with his friends, with his family and how he reacts to these people
and this setting. Problem is, Ryan wears a leg brace, a defect in his
leg he inherited with birth. Kids push him around. He can’t play on
the football team. He argues with his parents. His dog barks at him.

He has a lot of problems until he’s challenged to leap over this

rushing water to show other kids that he’s not a wimp. Then,
his real problems begin.He leaps and falls into the water. He is
swept into an alternate universe where he has to change or he’ll
never be able to return to his home. The evil Komodo and his army,
a village of “people” and five Kung Fu Kangaroos who need his
help stand in his way. This is where his transformation arc begins.
This is where the dramatic premise for the movie is established. From
From this point on, Ryan begins to change, and to never be the same again.

This alternate universe (no different than what your main character
should be experiencing at this point in your screenplay)”attacks” Ryan.
He survives the plunge, but now he’s being threatened by the evil
Komodo’s soldiers in a forest. When some Kung Fu kangaroos rescue him, he
begins to see that someone cares about him, and he doesn’t even know
why. And miraculously, he discovers that his leg is healed.

Fearful of the village, which is made up of a loving community of people,
at about page 45, Ryan foreshadows he is going to be at the end of the
movie. He meets a girl, Princess Anne and he isn’t afraid of her. At midpoint, the village
is attacked by Komodo and his soldiers. Though fighting valiantly, the Kung
Fu Kangaroos are outnumbered. They manage to drive the invaders
away, but, they know, that unless they come up with some kind of
miraculous idea, Komodo is going to take over the village and kill
everyone. And now, Ryan has a stake in the outcome. Where before, he
cared little about himself, now, he not only cares about himself, but he
cares about Princess Anne as well. But, Komodo has kidnapped her to hold her for ransom
in order to force the village leaders to give in to his demands and give up
the village (Komodo desires the village because of its love and its peace
because this kind of behavior terrorizes him).

At about page 75, Ryan tells the village leaders and the Kangaroos that
he believes he can talk Komodo in releasing Princess Anne. Interested,
he tells them how.

At about page 90, Ryan, under the protection of the hidden Kangaroos,
Ryan confronts Komodo about releasing Princess Anne. Komodo, struck by Ryan’s
audacity, challenges him to a duel with swords. Only Komodo knows his soldiers
are near to back him up, but unaware of the hidden Kung Fu Kangaroos.

Komodo, by far the superior warrior to Ryan, is about to take Ryan’s head with
his sword, when some of the soldiers show their faces. At that point, the Kangaroos
show themselves. An all out battle ensues.

Ryan races to rescue Princess Anne. The battle is so fierce, the out-numbered Kangaroos,
are exhausted and about ready to admit defeat, when Ryan, grabs a sword and disarms
Komodo. The Kangaroos take over and defeat Komodo’s soldiers. Ryan rescues Princess
Anne and saves the village.

In the closing scene, the village priest creates a mystical and spiritual avenue for Ryan
to travel so that he can return to his parents and other life. After a tearful goodbye to
everyone, Ryan leaves.

Upon his return to the town where he lives, his parents, friends, and the kids in school,
see that his leg is healed, and so is Ryan. Even his dog accepts him.

So, you need to take your character on a journey, by establishing the dramatic premise,
then roughly timing turning points in the story and in your main character. Page 1, a visual
metaphor that defines the theme of the story. Page 3, a line of dialogue, or an action
that directly pinpoints the theme of your story. About Page 10, establish the dramatic
premise. At about Page 30, something extraordinary should happen that spins your
character and story around 360 degrees and sends it off in another direction. At
about page 45, foreshadow how your main character is going to be at the end of
your story. Just a small action, something your character does to reveal this, like when
Ryan meets Princess Anne and he is unfraid of her. From this point forward, you must
have your main character creating all of the action. In other words, he/she must be
pro-active in all events. At about Page 60, midpoint, you must show that about all is lost
for your main character regardless of the new strength he/she is showing. By about Page 75,
have your main character change the way he/she is trying to accomplish his/her goal. At
about Page 90 of your screenplay, your main character should have a direct confrontation
with the villain (villain represents evil in fiction) or antagonist (doesn’t necessarily
represent evil so much as representing the opposing force to your main character’s goal).
This confrontation results in your main character winning and sets up how the story
is going to end. For the next several pages, your story should build to a climax where
your main character goes nose-to-nose with the villain or antagonist. Here, your
main character should have an epiphany. For Ryan, it was his discovery that he
must overcome Komodo in order return home to his family and friends. It is here where
your main character’s fatal flaw (the flaw that has caused your main character to
pursue a solution to it because it is more overpowering than any other flaw)comes to
the surface and must be overcome by your main character. With Ryan, it was his fear,
and he overcomes it.

After the climax, wrap up all loose ends and end the screenplay as soon as possible.

And there you have it. Nine easy to steps to writing a screenplay.