Robert McKee teaches a killer course in script writing/storytelling, and in doing so has captured the essence, the dramatic DNA of good story telling. McKee gets it all down to the ‘Beat’. As in your heart, nothing happens, including you, without the next beat. Good story telling is a string of beats. Okay, what’s a beat? Here’s where McKee has simplified it to crystal focus. A beat is the gap between expectation and reality.
Expectation, anticipation, desire, wanting, fantasizing, imagining are all subject to either elation or disappointment. What makes us drill into a story and stay there is the need to find out what’s going to happen next. And that ‘Next’ is what follows the expectation the writer created. The drama of wanting to know is the gap. Beats are the reasons actor’s can act out a story. A story without beats is flat and at best boring.
‘Gap’ indicates a space between two things, let me take a shot at identifying what those two things are. Expectation can be an action: The piano was lifted high above the sidewalk on a spindly cable. –or- She noticed the keys were not where she had left them just a minute before.
The reality could be; erring on the side of caution, he moved his Lamborghini to the other side of the street, then he heard a calamitous, dissonant musical crash. – or – She cautiously opened the cellar door only to find Fido gnawing on the leather strap of her key ring. Bending over to retrieve it, a gloved hand covered her mouth stifling the reflexive scream.
Okay, a little dramatic there but here’s what a beat is not. The piano was delivered.
-or- She picked up her keys from the table where she always placed them.
Beats in dialog are fantastic. Beats in action are essential and beats in plot lines make your story dance.
Check out Robert McKee he’s a master.