Beats, Scenes, And Scene Sequences

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Beats, Scenes, And Scene Sequences

A beat is the smallest structural unit of a script and is defined as an exchange of action/reaction. It's a line of dialogue, an action, or a reaction that creates an emotional moment. For example, a woman dressed for an evening out checks the clock—her date is late. She's annoyed (beat #1). The doorbell rings. Angry, she opens the door (beat #2). Her date tumbles in, bloodied and bruised. Her anger turns to horror and concern (beat #3). As we see from this example, beats are strung together to build a scene.

A scene is a continuous action in a single location. Each scene functions as a mini-story, with a beginning, middle, and end. A scene has its own protagonists. This could be the hero, the antagonist, or some other character depending on the scene's purpose. The scene's protagonist must have a goal (she wants to go out) and face obstacles (her date is first late, then incapacitated).

Scenes accomplish the following tasks:
• Create anticipation and move the story forward
• Reveal conflict
• Reveal character
• Elicit emotion

The best scenes accomplish several tasks at a time. Once you've clarified a scene's dramatic purpose, set it visually and dynamically. Keep your script tight by narrowing the timeframe of its action: Start the scene as late within the action being depicted as possible, and end it as soon as possible, leaving the moviegoer to imagine part of the scene's buildup and aftermath. Scenes link together to form sequences.

A scene sequence is made up of several scenes that work together to build tension toward a bigger climax. In a sequence in which the hero's wife leaves him, scene one could be an argument during which he pushes her. In scene two, he calls from work to apologize but she says she's leaving. In scene three, he rushes home to find her gone. Each scene has a climax—the push, the wife's announcement, the realization she's gone. But they all contributed toward the climax of the sequence—his realization that she's gone.

An act is constructed out of scenes and scene sequences that build toward a climax bigger than each of the scene sequence climaxes. The information revealed in an act climax is so new and shocking that it completely changes the protagonist's situation. An act climax is also called a turning point (see below). Acts are discussed in more detail in tips #27-30.



2/22/2009 11:35:09 AM
Ron said:

Great job. Very succinct.

3/31/2009 11:03:15 PM
Marc said:

I think this tip is really great. Very concise and easy to understand. Thanks!

1/14/2012 3:08:42 PM
chat said:

i love this tip. I've been looking for the exact word that could explain to me what beat is, now i've a full knowledge of it. I also understand how to build my scene into a scene sequence in a simplify way. Thank you foe the tip. You've safe me from a complete month of studying.

1/22/2012 12:17:38 AM
lanelle said:


3/1/2012 4:57:35 PM
David Humphrey said:

Thanks a million. U have really explained what they mean so i can understand properly. Got it now.


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