How to Write a Screenplay: Structuring with Sequences

How to Write a Screenplay

How to Write a Screenplay is our new blog series about the fundamentals of screenwriting

Screenplay frameworks exist to guide and support your existing story. The concept and rough story must come before the application of a framework. Remember, story first! Frameworks exist to help and support a story, and you’re always encouraged to break rules if it strengthens your script.

The Sequence Method originated from the era when multiple film reels made up a single movie. In order to keep the audience from getting up and leaving while the next reel was set up, filmmakers and screenwriters wrote in cliffhangers at the end of each reel. It exists as an alternative (or supplement!) to the basic three act structure.

Today, you can break up nearly any film into sequences, and I find the method to be especially helpful for navigating the vast desert that is act two.

How it Works

Films are divided into eight sequences. This method works best if there is a minigoal ending in a cliffhanger in each sequence. You can also look at each sequence like a “chapter” comprising of a collection of scenes and punctuated with a reversal at the end.

Here they are:

  1. Status Quo/Inciting Incident. Establish ordinary world and the hero’s problem or unease with the ordinary world. Ends with the inciting incident that threatens to change everything.
  2. Locked In. The hero may refuse the call to action, but by the end of the sequence they are locked in to the adventure and have passed the point of no return. In this sequence, they try and solve the problem the easy way, but fail.
  3. Raising the Stakes. Now that the character is locked in, they face their first challenge in the new world. The stakes have been raised now that they are locked in. The exploration of the new world occurs here, and the new minor characters of the new world are introduced here as well. This sequence is about exploration and playing out the concept. This is the first time the hero tries in earnest to solve the problem.  [Continue reading]

How to Make a Found Footage Concept Work

Genre Studies how to write a found footage film

  After writing my post about four tips for writing a successful found footage film, I realized that I hadn't talked enough about developing the core concept of a found footage film itself. I was at The Purge VIP premiere a few months ago, … [Continue reading]

How to Write a Screenplay: Formatting Guide

How to Write a Screenplay

Page 85's new blog series on the fundamentals of writing a screenplay Screenplays are different than prose because of how technical the formatting is. Never fear -- screenplay formatting is easy once you learn it! Some writers prefer screenplay … [Continue reading]

Technique of the Week: Character Archetypes and How to Use Them

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  Strangely, developing characters is an oft-overlooked part of the screenwriting process. I come from a novel writing background, and nearly every writing exercise and resource is geared towards creating great characters with unique … [Continue reading]

Productivity Tip: Get Competitive!

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  Hey screenwriters! Today's writing tip is all about using a little bit of a competitive spirit to help you reach your daily word count or page count goals. Not everyone works well in writing partnerships, but that doesn't mean you … [Continue reading]

What is “Postmodernism” In Film and Television?

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"Postmodernism" is probably the most abused term in the discussion of film and television. Some define postmodernism as a timeframe, as anything created after the "modernism" phase of film. Others describe postmodernism is actually a specific … [Continue reading]

Technique of the Week: Scenes of Preparation and Aftermath

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About the Technique Scenes of preparation and aftermath heighten suspense and infuse emotion into films, and it's too easy to forget about them and instead opt for jumping around to the next set piece. Scenes of preparation are notorious in heist … [Continue reading]

Technique of the Week: Direct Your Reader’s Eyes

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As writers, we need to learn how to not only control the pace of the plot, but also the pace at which the readers read. So what's the difference? Pace of the Plot You control the pace of your plot by the placement of set pieces and exciting … [Continue reading]

Technique of the Week: Saving the Cat

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Today we're taking a look at Blake Snyder's infamous piece of advice for making your protagonist likable: save the cat, from his book by the same name. This is one of my favorite books on screenwriting, and this is one technique in particular that … [Continue reading]

Genre Studies: 4 Tips for Writing a Found Footage Film

Genre Studies how to write a found footage film

How to Write a Found Footage Film The market for found footage films is an unsteady one at best. Just when you think the fad has gone out of style, promising specs sales such as Glimmer (a found footage time travel script by writer Carter Blanchard) … [Continue reading]