Screenwriting 2 – Metascript

In my previous post, I extrapolated on my initiation of the discovery process that I had recently embarked on.

Okay, okay, haha now my words are just getting too long (yet some of you fellow English majors are pleading for more).

I talked about my beginning steps in learning how to screenwrite. When I picked Screenplay up, I thought I was pulling a how-to format-centered guidebook off of the shelf. Apparently this is a tome. Its first few chapters focus on subject, character, as well as screenplay endings and beginnings. We haven’t even touched on how to indent my script properly. But I’m okay with that.

I have learned some pieces of advice that apply to general writing, half of which I applied already. The other half I forgot. But I wrote them down somewhere.

Now, you’re probably wondering what that word “Metascript” means. Me too. I actually just made it up in a sort of Germanic word-compounding way. “Meta” means “beyond” in Greek, used to denote an outside, overall, or holistic viewpoint. “Script” comes from Latin “scriptum,” which means “written.”

So, when I mention Metascript, what I talk about is the parts of the script that don’t actually deal with the formal, formatted script itself. The Metascript is all the stuff behind and “beyond” the actual screenplay. This is mainly what I have read about in the first several chapters of Syd Field’s Screenplay. I’ll discuss some things I learned below.

The act structure is the first new thing I learnt. A “paradigm” or formulaic screenplay can be divided into three Acts, with Act I housing the set-up (pages 1-30), Act II expanding the confrontation (pages 30-90), and Act III wrapping up with the Resolution (pages 90-120) (Field, 21). In between Acts, there are two “Plot Points” which switch the direction of the screenplay (Field, 21). They are often something like a death, an unsettling visit from an old friend, a change in opinion of the character. Plot Point 2 usually contains the climax, in which an old score is settled, a treasure is discovered, an illness is cured.


Another thing I learnt is that I “need a subject to embody and dramatize the idea” (my own emphasis added) (Field, 32). What is a subject? I didn’t really know until I read page 32. Syd told me that “a subject is defined as an action and a character. An action is what the story is about, and a character is who the story is about” (Field, 32). That helped. If I don’t have this, then I don’t have dramatic need, which is the catalyst, the turbine, the pneuma, of a screenplay. Some of things may appear common sense when you read them like this. You see me, an eager writer sputtering over this uncovered gold vein. But if you were to write a story, where would you begin? How would you begin? It’s much easier when we ask Who is involved? and What they are about to do?

Mr bean

The third lesson I learnt is about dramatic need. According to Syd Field, “all drama is conflict” (41). The character of a screenplay comes into conflict because they meet obstacles in the way of what they need or want. Dramatic need is what the character desires most. It “drives [them] to the resolution of [the] story” (Field, 40). Other sub-plots can be structured around, beside, or underneath this locus, but the protagonist’s dramatic need must be centre stage.


After being frustrated at movie remakes of books for never delving deep enough into the story, I realized that you have a definite limit to what you can put in a screenplay. This is sobering. I often want to parcel all of my thoughts into my work, but the screenplay (at least the screenplays that sell and have mass viewership) are simple, specific, and driven (this is not inherently bad–there are some very good movies that are also popular). Screenplays do not jump around much, because they cannot. In 90 or 120 minutes, the film has delivered the audience a distilled memory that they can analyze, or else it meandered too much. This is film. If we wanted to take longer and go deeper, we would take 15 hours to read a book.

I am enjoying this so far.


Field, S. (1979). Screenplay: The foundations of screenwriting. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

Featured Image: The Blue Wizards Journeying East by Ted Nasmith


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