Do you ever wonder what means what in screenwriting language? Below you will find all the most commonly used terms by screenwriters.
A-Story, B-Story, C-Story
The A-story is the core story, how the character, main protagonist seeks the goal. The B-story is the story, which runs parallel and intersects at crucial points with the A-story; often the B-story is the “love” story. The C-story (more common in TV) is like another B-Story, just smaller and less critical.
Act Break, Break Into 2, Break Into 3
The end of each Act is known as a “break” because in TV this is typically when we cut to a commercial break. To maintain the viewer’s curiosity, the act break should be surprising and essential. In the film, what defines the break, is when the hero decides to pursue the goal of the A-story.
The film is typically a 3-Act structure, and the end of Act-3 is usually the climax of the story. On TV a 4-Act structure is more common.
A beat can be a unit of story information, a moment in a scene, or a slightly longer than usual pause. In the context of the script, a beat often means a decision or a discovery made by the character.
To outline the major scenes in a story, such as an outline could be called a “beat sheet”.
Break a Story
To figure out how the story works. Essentially, when an account has been broken, you’ve identified all major story beats, including the act breaks and the climax.
To reference or return to something that has already happened or been said, commonly a joke.
Also known as a teaser a cold open is when a TV show’s first scene jumps directly into the A-story before the credit sequence.
1. Sometimes two people worked together and had an amicable split over creative differences.
2. Sometimes two people worked together but that ended up with a bad breakup, and those people hate one another now.
Hip Pocket Representation
This is what happens when an agent agrees to represent you or your project without actually signing a contract; kind of like a trial period. In reality, it means that the agent is going to make a few calls and send your script to a few people and if that results in interest and a sale, the agent will represent you then.
Means that someone left a phone, voice message.
The MacGuffin is a thing (anything) that is being sought by the hero and potentially other characters as well: a treasure map, missing people, love etc. The primary driver of a story.
On the Nose
When a beat or a joke is overly direct, too obvious, or clumsy.
It means a complete rewrite and starting your script from scratch.
To make it funnier. Often a re-write assignment for a comedy writer is to add more and better jokes to the script. Unfortunately, sometimes when a writer is asked for punch up, it’s for a project that is flawed and needs a page one.
This means “calling you back”.
Self-Contained, Arc’d, Format, Docu, Hybrid
You must know those five terms to pitch a reality TV show.
a) Self-Contained — means that each episode has a story that stands on its own. The alternative to the self-contained story is arc’d — means that stories span over several episodes.
b) Format — means that there are a game and rules.
c) Docu — means it’s showcasing the lives of the subjects.
d) Hybrid — means a combination of format and docu elements.
The first time a script is read by all of the primary actors; it’s typically done around a table. It’s like a kind of the first formal rehearsal of a project.
The room is a physical space, usually a conference table with some seating where TV writers work together to break stories — often revealing intimate details of their own lives while trying to figure out how to bring the project to life. What happens in the room, should always stay in the room.