Wednesday, April 18, 2007


So, here I am rewriting one of my short stories into a Monologue, whilst bearing in mind what my tutor has told me:
... you will need to do a lot of filtering to pitch your work for speaking actors... you need greater economy in indicating space and time, and you need to pace the pieces around what playwrights call ‘beats’ – the changes of direction which give a performer a clue to mood and keep the audience on their toes... has this to say about beats in a Monologue:
Divide your monologue into "beats." Within each beat, analyze your
character's objective, actions, and emotions. A beat changes every time the character's objective changes. Beats usually work best when analyzing an entire script.
But, I also found the following on:
‘Beats’ are the dramatic structure of your scene. They help build to the
point and purpose of what you want to establish.

Perhaps a better example would be the Ghostbusters scene I referred to a few posts back when we meet Peter and Ray for the first time. The purpose of the scene is to introduce them as characters, show that they’re involved in the paranormal and get them to the library where the ghost has appeared.

But the drama/comedy of the scene is played out with Peter trying to impress a vacuous blonde with his paranormal test and Ray coming in spoiling his moves before they go on their way. The scene has three beats.

Beat 1: Peter tries to impress the blonde by favouring her answers over the geek who he supplies with electric shocks and the geek, fed up, leaves.

Beat 2: Peter moves in on the blonde, buttering her up for his seduction.

Beat 3: Ray bounds in, interrupts, and forces Peter to dump the blonde so that they can check out the ghost in the library.

It's important to note that a 'beat' is not an exchange of dialogue. They're mini-beats if you like, to help progress to the proper beat. For
example, Peter, the blonde and the geek go through a few funny exchanges but the beat is for Peter to impress the blonde and be alone with her.

In writing for soaps, quite often you are given the “story beats” of the serial element. For example, you may get the story line: “John goes to tell Sarah that he’s impotent but he can’t quite summon the courage. Sheila and Maria prepare to adopt their first child together.” Etc. So, as the writer, you’re looking at this outline, and these story beats, and thinking of how to break it down into small dramatic beats of action so that you can do each scene justice.

I don’t know a lot of writers who actually take the time and bother to write a full ‘beat sheet’ (where you list the scene’s purpose and its relevant beats). Crikey, sometimes an outline and treatment can be hard enough without having to go to this much detail. But if you attempt a scene by scene breakdown or a ‘step outline’ then this is essentially expressing the key beats of what’s happening and how it’s going to be dramatised.

In writing for TV, it’s invaluable and obligatory, and perhaps if we all took the time to do it with our features then our scripts would have that extra edge of efficiency, drive and purpose to make the characters and drama truly stand out.

So, I need to pay heed to this in my screenplay also. Gah! Should have guessed this... McKee's been talking on and on about it in Story. It's about time I re-read that too.

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