How To Write

What is a beat in a Screenplay?

what is a beat in screenplays

You have heard this term many times and probably Googled it too. Then you got confused and looked through a couple of more articles to finally understand it. Well, for those you haven’t understood what it is I’ve explained it in the article.

A beat is the smallest unit used for measurement in a screenplay. Just like an hour is divided into minutes, seconds and so on. Nanosecond is the smallest unit. Is it used often by us? No not in everyday life.

Still confused? Let’s see an example

beat in scripts example 1

It means that Nora is taking a pause before answering. It can also be written in a better way like this below.

beat in scripts example 2

Nora is thinking of an excuse for not picking up that call. Here is another example.

beat in screenwriting 1

But as Jack knows that someone is dead. Where is his emotion while realizing it? So, it’s better to write it like this below

beat in screenwriting 1

While writing dialogues, beats are usually dramatic pauses. SOmetimes writers also write “taking a beat”. But that does sound amateur. 

A pause and a beat is the same thing basically. Writing emotions or actions in parentheticals makes the script more enticing to read.

Also Read : Screenwriting Basics: The Format to Write a Screenplay

So, what are beats sheets then?

Robert Mckee describes a beat as an exchange of behaviour in action and reaction.

The article here summaries the definition nicely. A beat sheet is a bullet point outline of all these main actions/reactions in your story. Once your beat sheet is complete, you can expand the action with scene description and dialogue.

Beats are used depicting action too. As a post by scriptlab here explains that,

“A beat sheet is a list of the action beats in order, removing description and any other “unnecessary” details added onto the action”. 

You can also find some good templates of beat sheets online.

If you can’t think of a description of action but have the scene in your mind, put a beat and then expand it.  

Practice makes perfect. Rewriting is the only way to understand this complex beat thing. 

Also Read : How to Correct Writing Mistakes in a Novel or a Blog

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