Keefer's Advanced Sequencing


After you have determined your main characters' objectives and spines, plotted the arc(s) of your dramatic structure, imagined the primary locations of your story, written your character bios, started a dialogue sheet to jot down spontaneous snippets as they come to you, felt the total kinesthetic impression of the script, it's time to start sequencing. If you use your computer all the time, you can sequence with Final Draft, but, depending on your lifestyle, it might be good to sequence the old-fashioned way with colored index cards. This allows you to work anywhere, anytime. Choose four different colors-- one for each act. At first, there may be 20 to 40 cards for each act, depending on what you have for long scenes and montages. On each card, write down the location, the principal characters, and any spontaneous information like a line of dialogue, an objective etc. Shuffle the cards around and then re-evaluate your plot points and your characters' objectives. After that you are ready to begin

ADVANCED SEQUENCING. This is a technique Professor Keefer made up. There are three components to this:

1) A specific visual record of how each shot transfers to the next. Now I realize that screenwriters are not supposed to interfere with cinematographers and that developers prefer master scene scripts to the old-fashioned shot by shot kind. I'm not saying that you are actually giving filmic directions. This is an imaginative exercise to acquaint you with the symbolic value of some of the objects in your scenes, a way to make sure you are telling your story visually, and a method of establishing your theme, which is related to the aesthetics of purely visual sequencing. Just describe the last image of one scene and the first image of the next--in terms of shape, color, close-up or wide-angle, objects, people, without going into any technological detail. What is the last thing the audience sees in one scene and the first thing they see in the next?

2) Conflict sequencing. Now go back to each scene and think about the primary objectives of the main characters. How do they differ? In one sentence, write down the primary conflict of the scene, even if it's mundane or unconscious. After that, write down the resolution. Who won? Was it a tie? Because of what happened, what do the primary characters want to do next? The conflict sequencing will include fewer cards than the other kinds of sequencing because the mini-conflict may take a few travelling/talking scenes to come to a head. Write down the conflict resolution after long montages as well, to make sure they aren't just descriptive. If you are going to show a series of multiple scenes, what is the conflict, and what changes dramatically when you have finished? When you finish this sequencing, make sure that there is some consistency and growth to the mini-conflicts so that they build to the climax or climaxes, depending on your structure. If something has been done, don't keep doing it, change and/or complicate it. After this sequencing, tighten your dramatic structure, and rework your characters' objectives and bios.

3) Once you have completed the above exercises, look at each of the scenes and decide what you want the audience to FEEL Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the left brain exercises of plot construction, character development and motivation, and story believability, that we make our work too didactic, expository, informational. The whole point of drama is to make the audience feel emotions: to laugh, cry, get turned on, frightened, surprised, shocked, angry. They don't have to feel something in EVERY scene or they might get exhausted but make sure that at the end of each conflict resolution, you are aware of the emotional impact of that sequence. Write down the primary adjective that describes how you want the audience to feel. Then give more space to these cards so that you can fill them in with jokes, phrases and actions that will elicit this response. Go back to your dialogue sheet and refine the punchlines and revelatory phrases so that you have a resource when you actually start to write scenes.

Rework your plot points, character bios, dialogue sheet, and choice of scenes a final time and then start writing. Note that this method is deductive-- designing a blueprint for the entire script before you begin, which is the opposite way most novelists, poets and even some playwrights work. It is usually the most efficacious way for a screenwriter to work because she is paid for her scaffold more than her exact, specific language. However, not every writer is equally skilled at deductive thinking.

If you are a more inductive thinker, write down entire scenes whenever they come to your imagination, and then step back and fill in the larger details. If you are a filmmaker or independent producer, you have the luxury of working inductively, of going out there and just shooting scenes. If you are writing for television, you will usually work scene by scene usually in some kind of collaborative way, in which case you have to be good at characters' motivations, dialogue and establishing plot twists ad hoc. However this is a course in screenwriting, not filmmaking or TV episodic writing, and therefore teaches how one can write a complete script that is sold without strings attached to it. Even if you are going to be a filmmaker or TV writer, it is still useful to be able to write and/or evaluate the totality of a full-length dramatic script.

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