- Express an idea as a simple premise.
- Expand logline as a one page precis that delineates act breaks.
- Break the one page in a series of 30-50 distinct beats, 7 words per beat.
- Flesh out the beats into 100-300 words per, creating an outline/treatment.
- Use the outline to write a draft.
- Rewrite the script by rereading the draft, breaking it down in the previous steps and repeating the process.
The class stressed doing each step in order, possibly excessively so. Afterwards, one of the students asked me, “Isn’t this a soulless and mechanical way to do it?”
On the spot, I said something along the lines of “This is an exercise that shows you best practices. Not everyone can work this linearly, but every step will come into play at some point in either the writing or the rewriting.”
I didn’t have a great answer at the time, but I’ve been thinking about this. I think the better way to put this is that a script has all of these steps, but not necessarily in that order. Some writers eschew all the development crap and just plunge into a draft, thereby discovering the world of their story. This is perfectly fine, but at some point in the rewrite, they tend to use more analytic lenses to troubleshoot their material.
There might be a savant out there who can write a script in a perfectly efficient manner, but most of us can’t. Breaking a story up into 40 beats that don’t suck might be the hardest part of the process, for most of us, we write a logline, try the beats, give up, write some of the draft, then go back to the beats, etc. I used to see it as inefficient, but now I see it as part of the process. Indeed, the inefficiencies in the process are where the artistic parts of the script are born.
So when you write your script, use all off these tools, all of these views to solve your story. A painter will use different sized brushes, and no painter does a perfect job of using the biggest brush, then a smaller one, then the smallest, he goes from brush to brush. So it is with screenwriting. When you’re stuck on your outline, consider your beats. When you’re stuck on your beats, check your one page. When you’ve had enough, write some script pages and make something happen. All of these views are just different representations of the same abstract idea. So long as you continually curate your views and make sure they all reflect the same reality, you can use any of these steps to further your understanding of your world, solve your story, and achieve your draft.