Screenplay Outline and Structure

Screen play structure

Okay, so you want to finish a screenplay, but you know that it’s missing something.  Your story is okay, but you know it’s not ready yet.  We all have been there.  Your script may not have a good structure. The photo above is the standard structure for a screenplay.  Each of the peeks are important moments in the story for the protagonist and the antagonist.  The script is broken up into fifteen minute intervals and the emotions that generally occur during those intervals are outlined on the bottom.  This is a very important structure for screen writers.  It shows how to break a script apart into three acts and it explains how to focus your story in a way that audiences, agents, and production companies expect.  In essences, it makes your script a better.  Simpler. And smarter.  If you want to see this structure and outline broken down and explained, go to youtube and search, “3 Act Screenplay Structure-Screenwriting Tips & Myths” and look for the uploader named, “Click Imagination“.   I considered attaching a hyperlink to the video within the photo above, but I’m starting to trust hyperlinks less and less the more I learn about them.  You should, too. So just go to youtube and search it yourself.  It’s really good!  Good luck writing today!

Writing a Screenplay?


Congratulations!  You’re on your way to a great screen play.  If you aren’t enrolled in a writing class right now, you may need some inspiration.  I often find lots of inspiration when I read someone else’s work.  Especially if that someone is pretty good.

FYI:  You can download a copy of television and movie screenplays if you just google a phrase like, “Pretty Woman script pdf”.   There are several sites that have already posted the original screenplay for many of the most popular shows on tv and film.

What is the advantage of reading one of these screenplays?  For one, you can get a great idea of what a published screenplay should look  and sound like.  Second, you get to see how working writers use “action” to write the cinematic  moments that directors put on film. And finally, you get to see what the competition looks like.

Here is a copy of the original screenplay for Pretty Woman.  But don’t stop here.  Find the pilot for BREAKING BAD, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, or CHEERS.   Or films like X-MEN, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, or YOU’VE GOT MAIL.  As a matter of fact, you should probably read them all.  Hopefully this will give you some inspiration, direction, and confidence as you complete your current script.  Now, go write something awesome!

How to Tell a Story Through Emotions


What is the one thing that connects all people who have ever lived? Emotions. No matter where you are from, you deal with the same emotions as every other human being that has ever lived.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, religious or agnostic, a king or a country peasant you still go through the same emotional journey over the course of your lifetime.  We all know what it is like to hope for something and your dreams come true.  And just as importantly, we all know what it is like to hope for something that never comes.  If you are over the age of 21, your probably know what it is like to have been cheated on by someone that you loved and trusted.  If you are over the age of 31, you probably know what it is like to be on the opposite end of the relationship, being the one that cheated.  If not physically, you at least fantasized about it which made you feel some sort of guilt.  Who hasn’t been jealous at some point?  And who among us hasn’t left someone that we loved (friend, family, or group) hoping that by leaving, the loved one would some how be emotionally hurt.  So hurt, that they would beg us to come back.   Have you ever met someone that made you so happy, all the bad parts of life became irrelevant?   These things make us human.  And as writers, we can use these experiences to write stories that attach themselves to each person in the audience soul for the rest of their life.

Unless you live under a rock, you recognize the cover photo above from the movie, Dreamgirls.  It is my favorite musical.  The story is about a trio of singers, trying to make it big the music business.

Not very many people can say that they have had the experience being in a famous singing group.  However, the show was a huge hit in the 1980’s and an even bigger hit when it was released as a film over 20 years later.  What makes this script so important to people isn’t the synopsis.  There have been lots of scripts about someone trying to make it in the music business.  And even though most people of a certain age would tell that the story is secretly about Diana Ross and the Supremes,  that isn’t the reason why people still flock to the theater whenever the show is being produced.  What audience can’t get enough of is the level of mature emotions that the characters go through.  Each scene is loaded with emotions that everyone can empathize with. Here is the first few scenes of Dreamgirls, told just through the emotions:

  • A group of friends lose a talent contest.  Since this is one of many loses for them, they are ready to stop kidding themselves and go get regular jobs that actually pay them. (Emotion:  Feeling Defeated)
  • They are given a chance of a lifetime to sing backup to a famous singer that travels all over the country. (Emotion:  Hope, Joy, Dreams are coming true.)
  • A young, inexperienced girl falls for an older man that says all the right things to get in her pants and steal her heart. (Emotion: Hope. Joy. Lust. Meeting the person of your dreams.)
  • A singer has his song stolen because it wasn’t copy written. (Emotion: Anger. Hurt. Taken advantage of. Feels like a sucker.)

I can go on, but hopefully, you get the point.  If you begin your next scene with question, “What emotion will I show in this scene?” you will have a story that has some meat on its bones.  A story that can stick to an audience’s ribs.  So today, when you write a scene, what emotion will you connect us with?  Can you do it within 4 to 12 lines?  Can you do it through a song?  Whatever you do, be sure to show us an emotion.  The further the story goes along, the more complex the emotion can get.  For example, by the end of Dreamgirls, the emotions that the characters go through are so complex, you can no longer describe them with one or two words.  Case in point, by the end of the story, the Deana Jones character deals with the emotions of having the man of her dreams, being lied to by him, being used by him to hurt someone else, finally being free of a controlling man, being able to be someone that she has now grown into being, and being happy to have an old friend back in her life after a decade of not talking.  And these are the emotions that one character feels in one scene!  That takes some building up.  I don’t think you can begin a story with that much emotion, but as the story goes on, that should be our goal:  Give our audience an emotional climax so great that they burst into tears of joy.  They should recognize the emotional journey the characters have gone through and grown from.  Good luck with your scene today!

*The photo from the Dreamgirls Film above belongs to Paramount Pictures, DreamGirls Pictures, and Lawrence Marks Production Company.

Writers Worshop for Playwrights and Screenwriters!


Attention writers:  Summer is finally here! If you have been working on a story or play and you want some help with tweeking it for your next reading or your next performance, join us every Thursday evening in mid-town. I am offering a writers workshop to anyone who wants to join. You can expect to gain a few new techniques that will add emotion, tension, drama, and excitment to your writing. Each week you will write a new scene or chapter and we will have a group of 6 professional actors bring your work to life. The workshop will be free, but a donation of a ream of paper is expected from all participants. More details are below.

When: Every Thursday evening starting June 11th untill July 30th.

Where: Grady High School, room C407.

Time: 7:30pm till 9pm

Cost: Free admission, but a donation of a ream of white copy paper is suggested.

Instructor: Playwright Jermaine Ross of Madison Group Theater.

How to Join: Email me at and simply say, “I want to join!”  and we are in business.

Creating a script 8 lines at a time

cinna and katniss

My last post was all about the technique of creating amazing scenes with only 4 to twelve lines.  Truth be told, most really amazing scenes only need eight.  Take this scene from Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  In this scene, Katniss says goodbye to a dear friend.  Within these eight lines, they

  • convey a sense of amazing love for one anther
  • without saying it, they make clear how dangerous the situation is
  • are pressed for time (there is an authoritative voice that keeps reminding them of the number of seconds they have remaining).

The technique of using “time” as a way of creating tension is really important in writing any scene and can’t be stated enough.  So can you create a scene that is this intense and meaningful today?  Keep in mind, the key ingredients are “time”, “danger”, and “losing something or someone that you love”.  Also, lets not forget about the fact that Katniss is watching helplessly as her close friend is beaten to death.  Is this an amazing way of creating tension?  Hell, yeah!

If you want to see the scene that I am referring to, either click here or go to youtube and search, “Catching Fire – Cinna’s Death”.

And that is how you create scenes that people can not stop reading.  Keep in mind, brevity is your friend.  Also, tension keeps people focused and wanting more.

How can you add tension?  Eminent danger is tension.  Time is tension.  Sexual tension is always fun for an audience or a reader, too.  Adding a gun or pointing a weapon is instant tension and the object is forever, “charged” (meaning, the audience will always be aware of where it is whether you want them to or not).  And last but not least, the tension of being misunderstood.  A perfect example of this type of tension is when August Wilson started the play, GEM OF THE OCEAN, with a character on the run from the law because he was accused of a murder that he claims that he didn’t commit. Now that’s a misunderstanding that gets people to pay attention.

Now go and write something awesome today!