The 12 Secret Screenplay Beats You Need to Include in Act 1.

Introducing the 12 secret plot points in act 1 most writers don't know about.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenplay Structure
October 3, 2014 14 comments
Screenplay Beats

Most aspiring writers think there are just 2 or 3 screenplay beats in act 1…

In his book, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, Jeffrey Allan Schechter lays out how to toughen up your act one by including the following twelve screenplay beats.

And in this post, we’re going to break down the ones that occur in the 2009 movie 500 Days Of Summer. Despite its seemingly avant-garde structure, the film’s Act 1 follows 12 specific screenplay beats (or plot points, if you prefer) to perfection.

If you haven’t already, first go back and read our introductory post on these twelve Act 1 script beats, which details exactly how it all works. There you will find the original 12 screenplay beats as described in Schechter’s book, along with a breakdown of the movie Identity Thief.

If you want to get an even more in-depth analysis of Act 1 these screenplay beats, we suggest you order yourself a copy of the book as well. You may also want to re-watch the first act of 500 Days Of Summer to get the most out of the breakdown. And you can also read the 500 Days Of Summer screenplay here.

The 12 screenplay beats in 500 Days of Summer.

Plot point 1. We meet either the protagonist/antagonist/victim or stakes character.

Tom and Summer sit on a bench, smiling at each other. She’s wearing a wedding ring. Tom sits at a board meeting at work. A voice over says how Tom always felt he’d never be happy until he met “The One.” Tom as a kid watches the Graduate.

Here we see Tom and Summer—protagonist and antagonist—together. We then meet Tom by himself, officially, as he’s the main protagonist and we get a glimpse of his romantic ideals about “the One.”

Plot point 2. We see the protagonist’s flaw in relation to the stakes character.

Summer works. As a kid, she brushes her hair and the Voice Over says how she didn’t share this belief. Summer walks into Tom’s work and he knows the moment he sees her she’s “the One.”

• In this second beat, we realize Tom’s flaw in relation to the stakes character—Summer. i.e. he’s not just a hopeless romantic, he’s in love at first sight with a girl who doesn’t share his optimism about love or a belief in “the One.”

Plot point 3. We meet the antagonist or amplify what we already know about them.

A girl, Rachel, cycles. She arrives at Tom’s apartment. He’s upset. With his friends, McKenzie and Paul, she makes him tell them what happened. Montage: Tom and Summer in love.

Summer tells him she wants to break up. He leaves. He says he wants to get her back. At work, McKenzie does a presentation. The boss introduces Summer to the group. Tom is smitten.

The voice-over describes Summer as “just another girl” as she rides a bike. But she isn’t… Everything Summer touches turns to gold. Everyone looks at her as she gets on the bus.

He says it’s fate that Tom met her. What we think we already know about Summer gets amplified here, as it becomes apparent she ended up dating Tom, but broke his heart. Just as we suspected she would.

Plot point 4. A deflector slows down the protagonist. His/her problem is amplified.

At work, McKenzie tells Tom she’s a bitch. Summer enters an elevator with Tom. She tells him she loves The Smiths and leaves.

 Cutting back in time to the first day they first met, we see how Summer quashes Tom’s assumption of her as an aloof “bitch.” She’s actually pretty friendly, and has the same cliched indie movie music taste as Tom.

Plot point 5. The protagonist is hit by a major blow by the antagonist.

At a work party, Tom tells Summer he studied to be an architect. She reads one of his greeting cards. He nearly chokes when she says she used to be called “anal girl”.

She leaves and he draws a picture of a building but screws it up. Tom tells Paul he’s officially in love with Summer. Montage: Summer being wonderful.

 Not only does Summer like the same music as Tom, but she’s just wonderful in every way. Funny. Intelligent. Sexy. He’s in love and there’s no going back now.

Plot point 6. The statement of the protagonist as it relates to the stakes character.

At home, Tom waxes lyrical to Rachel about Summer. She says that liking the same stuff as him doesn’t make her “The One”.

• It takes Tom’s kid sister to point out the obvious—that a shared music taste isn’t everything in a relationship. From this moment on we know Tom’s in trouble.

screenplay beats

Plot point 7. An Ally helps propel the protagonist out of his/her comfort zone.

In a bar, Tom tells Paul and McKenzie it’s off. Flashback: Tom and Summer in an elevator. She says her weekend was “good.” Tom says she’s not interested. Summer asks Tom if he needs anything from the supply room and he answers awkwardly.

He plays the Smiths loudly in the office. She walks straight past without looking. In the bar, Tom says he’s not going to ask her out. McKenzie invites Tom to karaoke but Tom doesn’t want to go until he learns Summer’s going.

• In a classic screenwriting reversal, Tom is disheartened again when he finds it hard to get Summer’s attention. He’s on the verge of giving up when McKenzie tells him about her attendance at the karaoke bar, persuading him to give it another shot.

Plot point 8. The protagonist seems ready to move forward in their goal and/or towards the stakes character but just can’t do it.

Tom enters the karaoke bar and says hello to Summer. She gets up and sings a cute song.

 Tom is again unable to make his move when they meet and she leaves to go sing.

Plot point 9. The antagonist/deflector attacks/shocks the protagonist. The dramatic question is raised as the protagonist realizes what the movie’s about.

Later, Tom joins her and McKenzie at a table. She says she’s not comfortable being anyone’s girlfriend. Tom asks her what happens if she falls in love. They argue about love and agree to disagree.

 In this pivotal scene, Summer shocks Tom with her revelation that she doesn’t believe in “the One.” Here, Tom finally catches up to what the audience has known for a while—that the woman of his affection doesn’t believe in true love and doesn’t want a serious relationship. This is the core conflict between Tom and Summer and of the whole movie.

Plot point 10. The depth of feeling between the protagonist and the stakes character becomes evident.

Later, Tom sings a Pixies song. At the bar, they discuss the TV show Knight Rider. McKenzie sings, badly.

 Despite the shock of the previous plot point, Tom is attracted to this girl. He can’t help himself. Especially when they obviously have so much in common and get on great together.

Plot point 11. The antagonist or deflector threatens to take the stakes character away from the hero.

Outside, they put McKenzie in a cab and he drunkenly blurts out that Tom likes Summer. Tom and Summer agree to be friends and she leaves.

 Despite their obvious chemistry, it looks like Summer’s relegated Tom to the “friend zone.”

Plot point 12. The protagonist decides he/she must act to save the stakes character.

In the photocopy room at work, Summer brazenly walks over to Tom and passionately kisses him. She leaves.

 In a twist, it’s the antagonist here, not the protagonist who decides to save what’s at stake—the relationship. Summer’s kiss ignites the flame between her and Tom and signals the end of Act 1.

Script beats: going forward.

And that’s the 12 essential screenplay beats you should include in act one of your screenplay. Now it’s time for you to apply them to your movie. Using these is a great way to make sure you’re hitting all the right emotional screenplay beats and successfully engaging the viewer in your protagonist’s world.

To learn how screenplays are really structured using sequences, check out our screenplay book:


Is your first act hitting these same Act 1 screenplay beats? Are you properly introducing the protagonist and antagonist? Are you making the protagonist’s problem and the core conflict of your story absolutely clear to the audience?

Let us know what you think about this method to bulletproof your Act 1 using these 12 essential screenplay beats in the comments section below.

screenplay beats

Enjoyed this post? Read more on screenplay beats and how to master script structure…

How to Use the 500 Days of Summer Script to Master Non-Linear Stories

12 Secret Script Beats You Should Include in Act 1 of Your Screenplay

How to Write a Screenplay: The Secret to Elevating It Above the Ordinary

[© Photo credits: UnsplashFlickr]

  1. Craig says:

    question 1
    Is there a blog like this, but for tv show beats? I tried searching for one but had trouble finding it.

    question 2
    in the script hacker course that I bought, in the section where theres talk about “sequences” under the “structure” category. Are those used for tv scripts as well? If so, then are there any differences between a movies sequences, and tv show sequences.

  2. William Whiteford says:

    A subtle analyse of the zigzag relationship between Tom and Summer!
    This 12-step-technique can be particularly useful in those inter-human relations, in which sorting the wheat from the chaff matters, I think.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, William!

  3. Bradley C says:

    I have been reading a few of your posts I feel like my writing’s improving already. Good work guyz.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Bradley!

  4. Daniel Holmes says:

    How did I not know about this already?? Thank you Srp!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad you found the post, Daniel!

  5. Catherine says:

    This is stupid. Why do I need to memorize even more structure beats than I know already? My script has just made it to the next round of the Page Awards and has been highly recommended by everyone whose read it

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      As it says in the post, they’re just a guide to tighten up your act 1. Feel free to ignore.

  6. Trissa Evans says:

    Why don’t you ever write anything about strong female women of color? It really annoys me just hearing about white characters ALL THE TIME!!

  7. Josh Wolf says:

    Is there one for Toy Story?

    1. We haven’t broken down the screenplay beats in Toy Story yet but give it a go 🙂

  8. Dyan says:

    Excellent point, Todd.Yet, I’ve read query letters where wrtires state they were semi-finalists in Bluecat or Nicholl or Slamdance or Austin it all starts to run together. And to tell you the truth, I’m more impressed when I read someone WON a contest, even if it’s small one But maybe that’s just me. You’re right though: there are so many contests out there, you don’t just want to throw your money into something you can’t trust.However, some of the small contests can also help you land jobs. I was actually thinking of some of the smaller contests that DO have industry connections, for example, Big Bear Lake led to Letters from Iwo Jima getting sold and made.I guess the best we can do is just to do the research before entering any contest Onward!-EricP.S. Why all the animosity towards Missoula?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the comment, Dyan.

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