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    What Are Beats? How Can I Use Them Effectively?

    Last February I received this provocative question from an aspiring screenwriter: "I have been studying screenplays and I'm having a problem finding out what a BEAT is. How do BEATS work within a screenplay?"

    Scenes are made up of 'beats'. Even the shortest movie scene will have several beats within it. Scenes in plays run much longer and may contain dozens or even hundreds of small beats that reveal character nuances, enhance conflict and move the plot along.

    A beat is a contained moment. The beat changes when something happens to change the mood or the intent of the characters.

    Directors and actors break their scene into beats to help them understand the emotion and subtext of the scene and so they can wring the most drama and entertainment from each moment in the scene.

    A mundane example of a beat breakdown within a scene: A Detective walks into an interrogation room to confront a Suspect.

    Beat one: The silent interchange that occurs as the Detective enters and faces the Suspect.

    Beat two: The Suspect harangues the Detective for making him wait so long.

    Beat three: The Detective responds to this rant by holding up a piece of evidence that connects the Suspect with the crime -- a bloody shirt maybe.

    Beat four: This physical evidence quiets the Suspect temporarily. He stews as he contemplates how to explain away the bloody shirt.

    Beat five: The Detective goes on the offensive, probing deeper with questions about the shirt.

    Beat six: The Suspect stops stewing and starts sweating.

    Beat seven: The Detective circles the suspect as he talks, moving in closer, invading the Suspect's personal space. It appears that the Suspect is about to 'break'.

    Beat eight: Instead of breaking, suddenly the Suspect grabs a pencil from the Detective's pocket and stabs him in the eye with it --

    Great scenes have several beats with surprises and tiny twists of emotion, dialogue, gesture or action that reveal plot, character and emotion.

    Look at a scene you've written that you feel works well. Break it down into beats, you'll see why it works. There is probably plenty going on to keep the audience engaged with the characters and their conflict.

    Likewise, if you have scenes that aren't working, break them into beats and you might discover why. You need beats that will surprise and thrill your audience as they reveal the nuances of the characters and their conflict.

    Copyright © 2003 Lenore Wright

    Lenore Wright has 15 years experience writing and selling screenplays in Los Angeles and New York. For free marketing tips and tools subscribe to her newsletter Script Market News by sending a blank email to newsletter@breakingin.net or visit her Website www.breakingin.net.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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    For excerpts, reviews and what you need to do to receive the 2 free e-books, Write Memories and sign up for free e-mail courses, just head on to the Weekly Writes Book Official Site. (Clicking on the link will open a new window.)

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