Screenwriting is an incredibly difficult task for any person to accomplish. Considering screenwriting takes an abundance of elements and condenses them into a precise writing piece, it’s challenging for any writer to do.
Fortunately enough, there are many guides, techniques, and advice from professional screenwriters on how to develop your story, format it properly, and become the best screenwriter you can possibly be.
With this in mind, I recently discovered a fantastically actionable and straightforward technique that I think is worth sharing with everyone. No matter the genre of a script, lack of conflict and lack of casualty are two of the worst things that can happen to your script. However, today, I’m going to share with you four magic words that’ll expose these issues and fix them immediately.
Pull Up Your Beat Outline
First and foremost, pull up your beat outline. Once you have it pulled up, if you can’t connect each beat with the words BUT, UNTIL, EXCEPT, or THEREFORE, your story has a problem. However, don’t let this overcome you with emotion just yet. The best of scripts require a severe amount of re-writing, which happens to every writer.
For those who don’t know, a beat outline is used by writers to help map out their story. Unlike other forms of outlines, a beat outline operates by utilizing short bullet points instead of full sentences. The bullet points are called beats, otherwise known as the main pivotal or emotional points of your story.
If you already created a script without a beat outline, don’t worry; it’s not too difficult to go back and create one. Plus, having one will help you significantly more than you might realize. Outside of just this method, you can find a ton of beneficial information regarding your beat outline. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at Finding Nemo and how this strategy works.
Finding Nemo Example
With the opening of Finding Nemo, you’ll notice a constant presence of conflict throughout it. Notice the beats of Finding Nemo lead one into the other. Conflict is what drives a story, and without it, it’s pointless. Thus, it’s crucial to look at examples like Finding Nemo to see what makes films like those so great.
Nonetheless, Marlyn and his wife live happily in their new home, BUT a barracuda attacks them, killing the kids and Marlyn’s wife, and Nemo survives. THEREFORE, Marlyn becomes overprotective of Nemo, THEREFORE Nemo feels oppressed.
As a result, Nemo challenges his dad by touching the boat, THEREFORE Nemo gets taken, THEREFORE Marlyn chases the boat. EXCEPT, the boat is too fast, and Marlyn can’t catch it. THEREFORE, Marlyn has no idea where to go, UNTIL he meets Dory who gives him directions.
BUT Dory has a condition that makes her forget things, etc. You can find an outline to this down below, but as you can tell, this is an incredibly practical test. It helps writers see if the conflict involved in their story is enough for a compelling story.
I learned this method from the creators of South Park, who have a fantastic video demonstrating and explaining it. Also, this method is quite prevalent among other writers such as Aaron Sorkin, who teaches it in his masterclass and Pixar story artist Emma Coats in her 22 Rules of Storytelling. With this new knowledge in mind, put it into action, and let me know how it works for you!