One scene. There is no trick to writing a believable love story, a heartbreaking scene or real-sounding dialogue. All you need is to tell the truth. No one film did. One day when I was 18, I just found myself sitting down and writing one. When I write a screenplay, I am usually just putting a road map for a film that has been bouncing around in my head down on paper so that other people can read and see it.
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So in this case, the movie in my head had no words, so I trusted that and just went with it. Or an inspiring but not sappy survival story? Trust your gut. What movies inspired you to become screenwriters? Erotic persuasion. Find a way to get around linear thinking. Stories, even ones with jumbled timelines and time periods, are linear. They start, stuff happens, they end. When working out a story, I try to stay away from traditional outlines. Trying to sit down and begin by listing the scenes in order seems overwhelming.
My answer is to use notecards that I spread out on the floor. This process ends up creating connections and story lines that might not have been discovered otherwise. You never know where a card might land on your floor. And readers who are honest with you. No one ever quantifies a particular skill in the arts the way they do in, say, sports, but being able to write real-sounding dialogue might have something to do with rhythm and memory, not to mention having characters and voices in your head talking all the time.
I could always write realistic dialogue.
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I always try to make the opening image of the film reflect the theme or the story in its entirety. Make her human. My motivation came out of observing others home, street, etc. You have to hear it in your head. Not really hear it, but like you have little people in your head. They talk and talk and talk! The trick is therapy. Take notes. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again. Act Three is about Synthesis! Step 3 — Expand On Key Beats. With 15 strong beats now already created, you are finally in the home stretch. The next and final step is to expand on your beat sheet by adding 25 additional beats that will give you a total of 40 final beats. Why 40 beats? The easy answer at least in my case is that it just works. You may want more beats, or less… But 40 is a nice round number that will usually end up translating to between — pages in your final screenplay.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, not all beats are just one scene. Some are sequences of multiple scenes, so your 40 beats might actually be more like 70 — 90 scenes or more once you write them down in screenplay format. On average, I am finding that each of the 40 beats on any of my beat sheets translate to about 2 — 3 pages in a completed screenplay.
There are exceptions to this of course, but generally speaking this is why 40 beats seem to work well when translating to the standard screenplay length of — pages. The bracketed beats are suggestions for where you can place your 15 beats from the BS2. For instance in Act I of any screenplay, it can be important to show your main character at home, at work, and at play to give the audience a sense of their day to day life.
The same approach can be taken for acts II and III, by connecting the dots between existing beats with scene ideas extracted from your original notes. I find that this third step in the beat sheet process is actually by far the fastest for me, which is interesting considering it is the most specific and demanding. Once you have your 40 beats, you can finally move on to writing your screenplay. On the other hand, if you are just figuring it out as you go, it could take you ages to re-write in screenplay format until you finally land on your final story.
If I am not working off of a beat sheet it can take me all day to just write a page or two, because so much time is spent mulling over character or story ideas that really should have been decided on before hand…. If you like what you read here, be sure to give it a try on your next screenplay. No technique is going to work for everyone, but this one certainly works for me and I hope it will benefit some of you readers out there.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook for more content like this! Really good stuff.
Your screenplay sucks, aimed at re-writing phase, is the other book that completes my personal podium. Funny, I have a very similar beat sheet template. Obviously not things you have to do but I find it fun and makes things easier. Awesome — thanks for sharing Dan. Will keep that in mind as I improve upon my own format in the future. Stay tuned! I am a novice and found this to be extremely helpful. Thank you so much! This truly clears a great many things up! This is so clear.
Time to get to work. Thanks, Noam! So happy to hear this was helpful for you Kristy! Thanks for the note and best of luck with your story…. Blake Snyder has insisted that the Catalyst should be placed on page 12 and others are saying it belongs page 10…What do you recommend?
Noam, again, more great information as I wade through the complex enterprise of filmmaking. I do something similar with longlines e. I found this process for developing loglines saves me a lot of time rather than ponder for hours. What great information on Story by Robert McKee.
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I went to his website and he has some amazing seminars of all genres. Thanks for providing solid leads. On longer scripts, those beats will get extended or some sub-beats will get added as needed, but the basic 40 beat structure seems to do the trick almost every time!
Thanks a million. This is it. Huge fan of Blake Snyder. Carry his beat sheet around in my heart. Our professor actually told us to make a beat sheet for our final film even before we knew what we were going to write seeing as this final film was just assigned. I had an idea of what it was but had no clue as to how to start formatting it.
A search online bought me to your page and I have to say this post was such a great help! Thank you! Big thanks for this article, Noam.
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Thanks a lot! I am writing a TV Series now and this was very helpful. I will be buying many books and I have read about a couple here, but do you recommend any others? This is so helpful! I was wondering what does the 40 beat sheet translate to in scenes?
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Like how many scenes per beat, and how many scenes per act? For others, each beat may be broken down into 3 or 4 scenes. Hope that makes sense!
Noam, thank you for straight forward reveal into your process. For the last year, I was stuck on my script as my beat sheet exposed a big hole into my story — it took me a year to work through it mentally. The beat sheet now flows and I feel it — for me this is the biggest value of the sheet. While it took me a year to fill in the gaps, my characters continued to develop etc. Thanks for the kind words, Seth! Hope to see you around the site again soon! Noam — love this beat outline. Question — do you always do the free write in that order — story, character, theme?
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Is it harder to take a theme and build a story out of it than vice versa. Yes, for me personally I always do it in that order. The very first kernel of the idea is the scenario. From that comes a rough version of the story, which is strengthened and clarified once I start working through character in more detail. Although theme is of course one of the most important considerations, I find writing from the theme too early sometimes boxes me in. Noam, what are the unbracketed points?
Good question! They are a continuation from the previous bracket. This is so helpful, Noam. Glad to hear this is all part of the necessary process. So glad it was helpful for you… And best of luck with your script. Very helpful, thank you! Smitley is a fantastic book on how to plot your novel. Got it free with kindle unlimited. Blew my mind how easy it makes writing my novels. The hero has been tested and might be faltering in the new world up to now, but at this beat he starts figuring it out.
Great addition! Love that beat idea… Could be a great writing prompt too. Thanks for sharing this. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Posted On February 16, Step 2 — Identify Key Beats Having already gone through the concept development process in Step 1, you can now start to hone in on some of the specific elements of your story that you want to emphasize, and the elements you want to eliminate. Step 3 — Expand On Key Beats With 15 strong beats now already created, you are finally in the home stretch.
My 40 beat template looks something like this: ACT I 1. Opening image 2. Theme stated 3. Setup 4. Catalyst 7.