After the logline, before the outline, you should tell your story in a numbered list of 40 beats.

* Note: A better version of this draft can be found here.

Movies start with a basic idea or concept. This concept should lend itself to one of the marketable movie genres. You’ll want this concept to involve a main character who could be credibly played by a castable movie star. Then you’ll want to which should be expressed as a logline.

Logline (noun): The story in one active sentence, focusing on the concept,
main character and main conflict. Ideally in 25 words or less (someday I’ll
write a blog on this concept, negating the need to reference another site,
but for now, this definition from will suffice).

The logline should give a casual reader a rough idea of what the script will look like, but before you write the script you must (or at least should) write an outline/treatment (see post on outlines). But before you do that, you’ll want to write a list of beats. Forty of them to be exact.

A beat is major event in the story that makes fundamental changes to the world of the story. “Bob and Joe fight and end their partnership” is a beat.  “Bob gets off the plane” is not, unless Bob is Mr. Bean. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if your beat could plausibly take up 1/40th of a script (three pages). If it can’t, it’s not a beat.

Your list can take any number of forms. An excel spreadsheet, cards on a corkboard, post-its on a bedroom mirror, pen and ink. It doesn’t matter, they’re all different ways expressing the same idea. For added cogency, try expressing the high concept of the beat in 7 words. John August prefers scene cards to a straight up list, but his advice is
universally applicable. 

So you need 40 beats of seven words a piece. That’s 280 words, barely a page. Easy! Get them done, and rush to the outline. You’re a natural, you screenwriting prodigy, you!

But seriously, this should be hard. I’ve done it a hundred times and it’s still hard for me.  My next blog will be about the factors that cause this to be hard, and some tricks and tips to make these 40 beats just a little easier.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

2 thoughts on “After the logline, before the outline, you should tell your story in a numbered list of 40 beats.

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