Posted by: steveonfilm | October 19, 2009

56 Points

Yesterday I wrote a bit about how I start fleshing out a story with 12 Beats. Today, I’m going to write about what I do with those 12 beats once I have them.

I’ve written quite a few times about Syd Field’s “Three Act Screenplay” method. I’ve found this technique has helped me put together and structure my screenplays more than anything else. The gist of his method is to break down your screenplay into four parts (Act One, Act Two A, Act Two B, and Act Three), each with 14 beats. If you multiply 14 by 4 you get 56, hence, 56 points.

Now what I like to do is take the 12 beats I’ve already put together and split into 4 groups, and use them as the basis for each of the four parts of the screenplay. Beats 1-3 will contain Act One. Beats 4-6 will contain Act Two. Beats 7-9 will contain Act Two B. And Beats 10-12 will contain Act Three.

I’m going to use Served Cold to show you how I’d map the beats for Act One into the 14 point in Syd’s method. For example:

Beat 1 – Meet Fisher and his team.
Beat 2 – Fisher needs to come up with money to pay for his brother’s treatment.
Beat 3 – Fisher and his team rob a bank.

These three beats are the main story elements of Act One. All I need to do now is flesh them out into 14 points (or, in essence, smaller beats). To get started I’ll take each beat and plug it into one of the 14 points. For example:

1. Meet Fisher and his team.
6. Fisher needs to come up with money to pay for his brother’s treatment.
11. Fisher and his team rob a bank.

This gives me three points already filled out. However, a story beat is much bigger than the point for an act. So what I’ll do is take the beat and then flesh it out a bit. For example:

1. Meet Ryan.
2. Meet Carter.
3. Meet Biggs.
4. Meet Worm.
5. The team robs a small credit union.

What I’ve done is take the first beat and flesh it out into 5 points. This introduces Fisher and his team, and shows them working together.

Next, I’ll take beat 2 and map it onto a few more points. For example:

6. Fisher visit is brother.
7. Fisher with Adele.
8. Fisher talks to Quinn about a big score.
9. Fisher is hesitant to take the score, talks it over with Manny.
10. Fisher visit his brother in the hospital, finds out his mother owes 250k in medical bills.

I’ve taken beat 2 and fleshed it out over 5 points. This only leaves the final beat left to flesh out over the last 4 points.

11. Fisher and his team prepare.
12. Fisher and his team enter the bank.
13. Problems getting into the vault.
14. A narrow escape just before the police arrive.

And with that I’ve taken beat three and fleshed it out over four points. I’ve now got 14 points to base my first act around.

Typically at this point I’ll look at how all the points for act one flow. I’ll shift them around, change them, and continue to tinker with them until I’m satisfied. After that I’ll move on to Act Two A, then Act Two B, and finish with Act Three.

This process can sometimes take weeks to complete. It’s a long process, but the time spent here can greatly ease how much time you actually spend writing. After I’ve settled on my 56 points, I’ll then go back and flesh each of them out into scenes with more detailed notes. And once I’m done with that, then I’ll start writing the screenplay in earnest.

Using these two methods might help you start to put together your screenplays. Maybe they won’t. Different things work for different writers. But the important thing is to keep experiments until you find what works for you. This will often change over time, and one method won’t fit for every story out there. But with at least a rotating plate of brain storming exercises you’ll have the tools you need at your disposal to properly plan out, and then execute your screenplay.

Until next time, keep writing!



  1. I stumbled across your videos on youtube a couple days ago, and I really found them encouraging. They led me here to your blog. I am just starting to design the story of what will hopefully by my first screenplay, so I’m reading books like Story and Screenplay, and checking out everything I can find online. It is really cool to read your blog, because I feel you are someone who is a little further down the road of screenwriting then I am who is taking the time to help out people like me who are just starting out. So thanks for your blog! (I read your screenplay Served Cold, and am looking forward to seeing how it evolves in the next draft!)

  2. Hey, thanks! Yeah, I’m just some guy who likes to write, and figured maybe I can help encourage some others to do the same. Thanks for reading “Served Cold,” hopefully it was entertaining. If you need any help, or have any questions, let me know and I’ll do what I can. My e-mail address is on my “About” page.

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