A collage of storyboard panels highlighting short snippet scenes from famous movie sequences including action shots from Indiana Jones, silhouette kiss from Lady and the Tramp, airport farewell from Casablanca, shower attack from Psycho, ET moon flight, and Forrest Gump feather floating among other iconic cinematic moments.

What is a Sequence in Screenwriting and Why It’s Important

Sequences are an essential structural element in screenwriting that group consecutive story scenes centered around a specific narrative objective or unifying context.

Understanding how to effectively utilize sequences allows screenwriters to better organize key plot points and character development arcs within the broader framework of a script’s 3 act structure.

Sequences bridge the gap between individual scenes and overarching acts. While acts divide films into the major stages of setup, confrontation, and resolution in line with the classic storytelling model, sequences function as self-contained narrative blocks within those larger acts, each advancing a portion of the story through a connected series of events, typically 3-8 scenes in length on average.

Where scenes focus the onscreen action primarily in one location during a single timeframe, sequences have their own narrative trajectory, cutting across multiple scenes as the characters pursue episodic goals that build tension and momentum or realize critical story transitions. For example, a common sequence structure is the:

  • Setup – Establishes setting, characters and objectives
  • Confrontation – Obstacles arise and conflict builds
  • Resolution – Outcome and consequences of the events

So in essence, sequences move through connected scenes to tell a sort of mini-story within each act’s narrative framework – whether it’s a romantic montage sequence showing the courtship phase of two characters or an action-packed car chase propelling characters towards a climactic goal.

Why Use Sequences in Screenwriting Structure?

Structuring scripts utilizing sequences serves several key purposes in the writing and production process:

  1. Organizes Story Beats Logically

Sequences enable writers to group scenes in ways beyond just location-based divisions.

For instance, scenes, where protagonists investigate clues to a murder mystery, can be bundled together in an investigation sequence irrespective of setting changes from a police station to crime scenes to a laboratory, unified instead by the exploration theme.

This logical clustering of narrative events and plot details related by context aids in the script development process by delineating story beats for refinement.

  1. Builds Suspense and Momentum

Sequences often have their own internal arc and narrative trajectory.

Constructing sequences that cut back and forth between protagonists’ and antagonists’ stories (alternating sequences) enables writers to build suspense and momentum by interweaving rising action.

The audience knows crucial details the characters don’t, anticipating a confrontation. This table-setting then pays off down the line at climactic points when narrative threads intersect.

  1. Defines Time Passage

Sequences can demarcate leaps in time that might occur over extended periods.

For example, a training montage or music sequence will often signify large gaps between story events – transitions that might otherwise need tedious explicit exposition if handled just at the individual scene level.

  1. Facilitates Pre-production and Production Scheduling

Finally, clearly delimiting sequences in screenwriting can aid producers and production managers in assessing required locations, props, personnel, budgets, and schedules.

Since sequences form natural narrative “blocks”, the production process can be segmented into more predictable workload units analogous to sprints in software development.

Types of Sequences

Sequences are extremely versatile and mutable storytelling devices utilized for driving plots forward, developing characters, building tension, and signaling transitions across a wide spectrum of film genres. Some examples include:

  • Action Sequences – Predominately physical sequences like fights, chases, disasters or stunts that ratchet excitement. The overwhelming focus is on kinetic spectacle used to build suspense and tension for characters put in harm’s way. Action sequences test protagonists physically.
  • Dialogue Sequences – Also called “talking head” sequences, these heavily emphasize character interactions conveyed through dialogue rather than physical action. Dialogue sequences tend to expose character backstory, viewpoints and motivations more overtly through conversation rather than visually.
  • Comedy Set Piece Sequences – Films often employ recurring comedic sequences that feature humorous characters placed in scenarios punctuated by gag beats and jokes in rapid progression to delight audiences through surprise, absurdity, awkward moments and tonal shifts.
  • Investigation Sequences – In mysteries and detective plots, investigation sequences entail the protagonist piecing together clues, examining evidence, conducting interviews, poring over records – deducing conclusions that will propel the plot forward towards its resolution. The stepwise revelations keep audience curiosity piqued.
  • Travel Sequences – In travel sequences, the actual journey itself serves as the backdrop to update viewers on story progressions that might have occurred over long distances or times rather than just cutting between departures and arrivals. Revelations emerge through conversations against shifting backdrops that would otherwise seem disjointed.

The Structure of Sequences

While sequences can assume many forms and rhythms in service of the story, they commonly employ familiar narrative convention structures, including:

  1. Setup -> Disruption -> Resolution – The sequence establishes the status quo, expectations, and character goals which are then disrupted by inciting incidents triggering rising action that crescendos towards climactic resolution. The resolution presents consequences that in turn set up the next narrative phase. So sequences enable cycles of setup and payoff.
  2. Thesis -> Antithesis -> Synthesis – Here sequences play out in 3 stages, first introducing an idea (thesis), next challenging that concept (antithesis), and finally reconciling a new understanding (synthesis). Each phase builds tension and insight for characters who have their assumptions tested from multiple vantage points before achieving growth and nuanced appreciation of the issues.

Why Properly Structure Sequences In Screenplays?

While sequences offer great flexibility to creatively chart characters navigating story complexities, improper sequencing can undermine scripts by losing audience engagement and diminishing the impact of individual scenes that collectively form an episodic narrative arc.

Constructing sequences artfully to maximize context, continuity, contrasts, and payoffs requires understanding the fundamentals of story structure and audience psychology.

Script consultants often assist writers in clarifying ambiguous sequences that become overly convoluted.

Some key considerations when refining sequences in screenwriting:

  • Each sequence should have a clearly defined narrative objective to anchor its associated chain of scenes. What is its primary purpose in advancing the story or developing characters?
  • Keep action continuous within sequence constraints to maintain consistency of themes, tone, timescale, locations, and atmosphere across component scenes. Minimize big disruptive shifts in the sequence “container”.
  • Utilize motifs, symbols, colors, music, and other repetitive visual or audio elements to reinforce connections between associated sequence scenes.
  • Begin and end sequences on resonating notes, whether cliffhangers, revelations, climaxes, transformations, or foreshadowing to compel viewers through rises and falls in engagement.
  • Define sequences by changes in character agenda, time jumps, locale shifts, or plot pivots – but not so frequently that sequences become just isolated vignettes vs cohesive units.

In essence, much like individual scenes, each sequence should have:

  • A setup establishing place, players, and premise
  • Rising Action where momentum builds
  • A Climax peak moment
  • A Resolution showing outcomes

This mini storyline approach to sequences creates expectations, elicits questions in the audience’s mind, poses dilemmas for characters, intensifies conflicts, and spins resolution that sets up the next sequences as stories unfold toward the final acts.

So in summary, incorporating well-constructed sequences as the key building blocks organizing the progression of interconnected scenes delivers the essential narrative framework that screenwriters rely on to develop compelling, cogent scripts ready for production.

Understanding how to harness sequences unlocks creative possibilities for directors and cinematographers as well during the filming process.

Ultimately utilizing sequences as an architectural principle for developing and arranging plot points, character arcs, and cinematic style enables any story-driven filmmaker to improve their craft substantially when it comes to both evocative writing and visually dynamic directing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are sequences in a screenplay?

Sequences are a series of 3-8 connected scenes in a screenplay centered around a narrative objective that comprises a self-contained mini storyline within the script’s broader 3 act structure.

What is a sequence in film?

A sequence in film is a series of consecutive, interrelated shots and scenes that develop a portion of the story through linking action or thematic elements rather than changes in location or timeframe alone.

What is a sequence in writing?

In writing, a sequence refers to a set of consecutive paragraphs, chapters, or other sections that systematically advance a stepwise narrative or expository logic to build ideas within a broader argument or storyline.

What is sequence structure in writing?

Sequence structure in writing refers to organizing concepts, plot points, evidence or themes using a logically connected sequential presentation typically following some exposition-analysis-summation development that builds understanding over a linear narrative pathway for readers.

Why do writers use sequence?

Writers use sequencing techniques to intentionally arrange ideas, scenes, revelations and descriptions in an order that methodically builds suspense, coherence or comprehension through structured progression rather than sporadic jumps.

What is the difference between a shot scene and a sequence?

A shot scene takes place in one location in a continuous time period whereas sequences connect several scenes likely across multiple locations and discontinuous times to complete a full episodic narrative storyline within a film.

What are the 8 sequences in a film?

While the number varies based on genre and scope, some examples of common sequences found in many films include the opening sequence, discovery sequence, pursuit sequence, romantic sequence, corruption sequence, confrontation sequence, final struggle sequence and aftermath sequence.

How do you make a film sequence?

Making a film sequence involves first outlining the narrative objective then scripting a series of 3-8 interrelated scenes that begin by establishing the premise and characters, progresses rising action through an arc with tension and obstacles, reaches a climactic peak, and concludes with resolutions that lead into the next sequences.

Is a sequence a scene?

No, a sequence is comprised of a chain of consecutive scenes united by a narrative theme or plot objective which jointly form a “mini story” within the larger story structure. Individual scenes focus more granularly on one setting in a single timeframe.

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