Video: 15 Beats of a Classic Story Structure Explained

How do Hollywood screenwriters structure a screenplay?

There's no such thing as "the right way" to write a script, but there are certainly well-trodden paths that countless professional screenwriters take to craft certain story structures. And though these structures might seem overused or formulaic, they do provide a great framework for new writers to cut their teeth on. In this video from The Film Look, we get to take a look at Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, or The Hero's Journey, which is one of the most common story templates, to not only learn what it is and how it works, but to also see how it unfolds in other films as well.

Maybe the best way to start talking about this is by explaining exactly what a "beat" is. Well, a beat is the smallest unit of measurement in a screenplay represented by an event, major decision, or important piece of new information. A beat sheet, or as they call it in the video, a "beat list," is a breakdown of every important moment that occurs in your screenplay in the order in which they occur.

I can't explain how helpful beat sheets are. If you're not currently creating one for every script you write, you should really consider doing so, because not only does it help you see your entire story from a better vantage point, but it can help alert you to any problems, since structural issues usually like to hide in the busiest parts of a 90-page script.

Now, the video talks about 15 different beats, which isn't exactly Campbell's famous Monomyth, which has 12, but the same general idea is there: a hero is called to leave his everyday life to overcome some kind of obstacle, which he can only accomplish by going through a major change by the end of his journey.

There are a great number of screenwriters who aren't fans of Campbell's story structure—or of story structure altogether—but for those who just want to wrap your head around how to write a story, the Monomyth is a relatively straight forward and accessible template.     

Your Comment


Great post! I feel like some of the elements belong in different acts? But I could totally be wrong.
I felt like I traditionally learned something more along the lines of the "incident" would be the 1st act turning point, and then we go into act 2 from there.
There's probably different interpretations - either way, awesome post.

March 4, 2017 at 8:04PM

Ben Meredith

It's a resource you have to pay for but I can recommend "Story Maps" as a good in-depth look at beats and how they keep the story engine running. It's uncanny how every film I watch follows the formula for beats and even TV shows, when there is a continuous story, like Game of Thrones. Very useful stuff to know.

March 4, 2017 at 11:09PM

David Barrington

quite a nugget!

March 5, 2017 at 8:32AM

Adam R. Taylor

Back in my high school creative writing class, contrary to what they tried to teach me, I always wrote my final story first and then went back to write my outline. I didn't see a point in writing one since I always saw my whole story in my head. This does come in handy with more complex stories though. I guess it's goo d to know the rules before you decide to break them.

March 5, 2017 at 5:28PM

Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.

It's interesting that the same movies can be analyzed to fit into multiple beat sheets. I like the Blake Snyder Save the Cat beat sheet. It's a little different than this one yet the same movies can also match up to it. My only issue with this beat sheet story wall example was that he didn't put the act breaks at the start of each row.

March 5, 2017 at 7:11PM

Anton Doiron

I enjoy the act system that you can't seem to refute in any film

March 6, 2017 at 4:33AM

Allison James
Dating specialist

Well if you do not have any structure in a story - then kiss goodbye to any thoughts of being a professional writer. That attitude is for amateurs only, and the film industry will not give you the time of day.
Formulas DO work. The right ones will get you fame ! If work wasn't at all formulaic then it just wouldn't make correct sense to anybody else.
There are 16 beats in any story - HERO'S JOURNEY or not.
For an story is a complete description of human life using 16 blocks of specially described behaviour.
I have written a book about DEEP LITERARY THEME THEORY to explain all this. The free work is called - THE SIGN OF 4.

March 12, 2020 at 12:44PM