Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Screenwriting Mistake #6: Beats (and other pauses)

This is one of those holdovers from old Hollywood when writers would use the word “beat” (usually in parentheses) to indicate a pause in the action, such as when a character doesn’t reply to a question in dialogue. Now it’s just another way for inexperienced screenwriters to micromanage the flow of their scripts. Sometimes people write “(beat)” on its own line to indicate a pause, and other times people write something like, “Jane stares at William for a beat and then walks away.” There’s never a good reason to do either of these things.
If you want to pause the action, well, you shouldn’t. Just write out the salient descriptions and dialogue and then trust your outstanding word choices to let the reader know the pacing. Any way that you write it, using a “beat” to pause your script will only hurt it. Just stick with telling the story in plain, everyday English.


  1. Does this apply if you're writing and directing your own script?

    I mean who cares right? But want to make it clear for my actors.

    Thanks for your quick tip.

    1. If you're going to direct the script yourself, you can write it any way you want. The primary sacrifice with that level of micromanagement is that you won't be giving your actors any room to explore how their characters might act and react throughout the script. But if you're the director, you can do whatever you like.


    2. Sir can i sent my story synopsis to you so please can you judge it. i don't know anyone to do so for me. please??

  2. Phil, would you say this holds true for theatre scripts.
    I feel that theatre scripts go through so many stages of development - which means so many first, and often blind, readings - that using (beat) to indicate a major shift in the focus of a character's line, can help the reader to immediately get the shift in energy and tone of voice.