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Friday, January 18, 2008

Beats Which Repeat Repeat Repeat

Do you have repeated beats in your script? Things which repeat? Which are just the same thing happening but put in another way? Repeating? In your script?

Well, how the heck do you know? First of all, what is a beat, exactly? As in we got the beat, thank you Go-Gos? As in beet soup or beat poets? As in beat a dead horse?

Simply put, a beat in a script is a moment in which something happens. I know, know, there are much headier ways of expressing it but the Rouge Wave is all about keeping it real for the people.

Do the Wave-inatrix a favor. Grab a highlighter, open your script to a scene and skim the scene looking for the beat. That’s what readers are doing when they read your script. Reading quickly looking for the beat.

Here’s a lame example, because we love lame examples at the Rouge Wave:

Louella puts down her cross stitch project and pokes the fire.

Louella: You want tea, Earl?

Earl: Yup. Take your time, darlin’. I ain’t in no hurry.

Louella smiles at her loving husband, walks to the kitchen and flicks on the light.

Louella: You sell the gun today?

Earl: Sure did, sweetie.

Earl watches after her and smiles. He shifts his pipe in his mouth, opens a drawer and gently removes a pistol.

Now: what is the beat in that scene? I know, I know, it’s obvious, right? Louella goes to get tea. No no no no no no. Earl lied about the gun.

Now, a repeated beat would be something like….two scenes later:

Louella takes her pills off her night table, drinks water and slips under the covers next to Earl. Earl smiles up at the ceiling.

Louella: So how much did you get for the gun?

Earl: Thirty nine fifty.

Louella: I’m so glad to be rid of that thing.

Earl: Me too.

So what is the beat in this scene? Earl lies about the gun. So we have two scenes doing the same damn thing. That, my friends, is a repeated beat and let me tell you something – readers hate them with a passion. As do execs. Because it says something about you as a writer – it says you are repeating yourself, thusly you are not the master of your material because you are not being effective or efficient.

So open your script and skim each scene, highlighting the beat in each scene. Just the essence of the beat. For example, as above, it does not work to say that the first beat is Earl lies about the gun while in the living room and the other beat is that Earl lies about the price of the gun. Nice try, slick.

Comb your script identifying each beat. If there is a repeated beat – search for and destroy it without mercy. Can the two scenes be combined? Is there a way to deliver this information in a shorter, more entertaining way? Is there a different beat that is needed?

ShowHype: hype it up!

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Christian M. Howell said...

Interesting. Do you think it would be cleaner if the info was given to another character?

Not saying I do this, but it could be a way of exposing different characters to some "clue" at different times, I would think.

But then therein lies the rub.

DougJ said...

Thanks for the tip. I wouldn't have thought to look for this sort of thing otherwise.

Just to be clear - If in between these two scenes, we saw Louella find the gun and not confront Earl, would that change the dynamic enough that the second scene is valid?

What I mean is, Louella knows about the gun and is giving Earl another chance to come clean and if not, find out why.

Julie Gray said...

Doug - in your example, the second scene is SORT of moving the story forward because now Louella is onto Earl - is that what you're saying? But still - the beat is repeated because it's the gun again. If there is an opportunity to move the story forward with another layer, you should always, always take advantage of it.