While in many ways the minute-by-minute approach to writing a script feels comfortable – it is in fact just a very detailed three act structure guiding writers when to hit major plot points – for some, this writing approach can feel stressful. Maybe all your scenes are just a few pages ahead of the typical page numbers you’re supposed to be aiming for, or maybe you find the entire approach too precise for your taste. Either way, it can get intimidating starting down the 100 blank pages you need to fill without some sort of guidance.
That’s where the Eight Sequence method approach comes in. Created by the Script Lab, the Eight Sequence approach takes a feature film and breaks it up into – you guessed it – eight segments. Unlike writing by the minute, this method is about treating each part of the movie like it’s own mini-film that serves a purpose in the story, yet it still yields the same end structure to your film that writing by the minute would. For that reason, it’s important to understand that neither approach is better nor yields better quality material, but that they are both simply that: approaches.
An Overview of the Eight Sequences
Because I did not create this method and the Script Lab already details what the Eight Sequences are here, this really is nothing more than an overview reiterating what you can already find on the Script Lab’s website. In addition to this screenwriting approach, the website offers tons of tips on screenwriting and free downloads of films for you to read, so I highly recommend taking a gander. If anything, see this overview as a starting point to explore the website and a way for me to introduce the method to people who would ordinarily not seek it out on their own.
Just like the minute-by-minute approach, the Eight Sequence method is divided up into three acts. Because of this, it makes it really easy to compare the two methods and find what you like and don’t like in both, often creating a sort of hybrid between the two.
Sequence One: Status Quo & Inciting Incident
This sequence is exactly what it sounds like. You begin your script showing the normal world, introducing the characters and their lives before the inciting incident. Some may call this “setting the scene” or in some case providing backstory, though in other stories backstory is revealed in the later acts. Then, after you’ve set all of this up, you introduce the inciting incident – usually at the end of the sequence – to push you forward in the story.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Typically the ten minute mark is the only one included in sequence one. This doesn’t mean your sequence can only be ten pages though, and in fact most sequences average about 10-20 pages each.
Sequence Two: Predicament & Lock-in
The Eight Sequence method refers to both the predicament and the lock-in as the two essential ingredients to sequence two. However, to some, those words are a bit confusing or misleading. The predicament here is the main conflict and the lock-in is when the character is past the point of no return. Both of these things must occur in this sequence, otherwise you’ve got no story! This is when your character must decide whether or not to go on the journey (they always do) and begin their adventure to solve whatever predicament they’re in. Just like with most three act films, this call to adventure is what brings the act to a close and should be your main objective for this sequence.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Sequence two includes both the seventeen minute mark and the thirty minute mark. Again, this does not mean that’s where it must occur in your sequence, but rather that these are the similar traits between the two.
The dreaded Act Two. For many – like me – no matter which approach to screenwriting you take you’ll have trouble in this area, and for good reason. Act Two is the largest act, filled with four sequences compared to Act One and Three’s measly two. You’ve got a ton of work to put in, but you don’t even know what to put in where! After all, everyone knows where their story is going, but how to get there? That’s where focusing on Act Two in bite-sized pieces can help you, and that’s exactly why the Eight Sequence method is perfect for this painful part of your story.
Sequence Three: First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes
When a character goes out to solve a conflict, it never is straightforward or easy and the third sequence is the place where you’ll introduce another conflict to raise the stakes and make things more difficult for your character. You’ll also use this place to cover any exposition you left out in the first act – you don’t want exposition overload. Often this exposition should make both the main conflict and the new conflicts/subplots having even higher stakes.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Just like with the third sequence, at the 45 minute mark you’ll find another conflict being introduced, making these two sequences very similiar.
Sequence Four: First Culmination/Midpoint
The Script Lab’s defines the first culmination as a decisive moment where the main character faces the central conflict in some way. Usually this is where the character has their “turn” and realizes something that changes them. They go from passive to active.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Occuring at the sixty-minute mark, the midpoint in both methods is similiar save for one principle idea.
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Sequence Five: Subplot & Rising Action
The fifth sequence in the Script Lab’s method mentions the dreaded “second act sag,” namely, when the writer loses momentum and often runs out of material. To avoid that, they recommend using this sequence to explore subplot conflicts, perhaps making things get even worse so that they can contribute to the tension in the story, setting you up for success in the next sequence.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Here you might find the 75 minute mark, though not always given that the minute-by-minute method does not mention subplots in its structure.
Sequence Six: Main Culmination
The Script Lab considers this sequence to be the of the highest intensity, the point in which the stakes are raised and tensions are high and the obstacle seems completely unreachable. You’ll notice that there is a high emphasis on this part having tension, and that is not something to be overlooked. At the end of the sequence, you’re expected to drop the ball on your story – do the absolute worst to your characters. So the stakes better be high so that when the hero achieves their goal at the end of the film, it seems like they really worked for it.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: Here you’ll find both the 90 minute mark and oftentimes the 75 minute mark, though you’ll notice that the Eight Sequence method pays no attention to the notion of a character having something they want versus something they need, while the minute-by-minute approach makes a huge point of including this moment. Additionally, while the minute-by-minute approach considers the 90 minute mark to be a low point, the Eight Sequence method maintains that the end of Act Two should be tonally opposite to that of the resolution and midpoint. So if you have a happy ending, it’s a low point here. But if your ending is tragic, the ending of Act Two is happy.
Sequence Seven: New Tension & Twist
The new tension referred to here is often the new goal or new need the character understands they’ve always had and need to satisfy. Usually the hero has achieved what they have always wanted only to realize that’s not what makes them happy, and so quickly within the third act you must introduce any new exposition or information the audience needs to know. Additionally, the twist or big reveal often falls here, another good reason for a goal shift.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: You’ll find that this sequence can embody both the climax and the falling action we find in the minute-by-minute approach. However what is not addressed is the “twist” and where one should put it (in reality there is no wrong answer, save maybe Act One, but even that’s arguable), something the Eight Sequences makes a point to address and offer good guidance on.
Sequence Eight: Resolution
The best way to look at this resolution – and all resolutions – is as an answer, and that’s exactly how the Script Lab defines the final sequence. In this sequence you’ll answer whether the main conflict was resolved, and if so how. Usually this resolution should mirror your midpoint’s tone, something the Script Lab makes a point to mention often. So that if your midpoint was happy, so should be your resolution and the same for if it’s tragic.
Where the minute-by-minute method overlaps: In the resolution sequence you’ll see the same resolution as you did in the minute-by-minute approach, however the Script Lab doesn’t put any emphasis on falling action like writing by the minute does, leaving that out, perhaps because it’s not always a necessity.
While both the Eight Sequence method and the minute-by-minute method are very similar, after reading through this it is likely you’ve noticed there are a few differences in what each method considers to be important. The Eight Sequence puts a lot of emphasis on the sensation of tension and keeping audience members engaged, whereas the minute-by-minute method focuses more on the hero’s journey and his trials and triumphs. Because of that, I highly recommend (again) you mess around with both methods as they’ll each give you a different perspective on your story, something I’m all about.
- Are your sequences really long or really short? Put the minute-by-minute approach on top of your script to see where you are off track.
- If you are having trouble with a certain sequence, don’t be afraid to skip it and write a different part. The Eight Sequence method is highly conducive to non-linear writing, so take advantage of that!
- Still not grasping what makes the sequences different? Try doing the exercise in the minute-by-minute post, but this time dividing the film up by sequence instead of by minutes.
- If your sequences feel too mechanical or bogged down by rules, try writing towards the goal of each sequence and start ignoring page numbers.
Using this Method With Other Mediums
Playwriting: Because screenwriting and playwriting have such similar characteristics, adapting the eight sequence method to your play should be fairly simple and require little updates. However, given the constraints of the stage and the way plays have developed artistically, you may find you can omit some sequences and still tell a great story.
Prose: You’ll all be pleasantly surprised to hear that my good friend Eva has already created a course that has a structure very similar to the Eight Sequence method. So while I could give you a brief paragraph as to how to adapt the Eight Sequence method to your novel or short story, you can use my affiliate link here to sign up for her course or just get her free novel outline that covers a lot of those topics if you’re on a budget! I highly recommend her One Page Novel course if you are a fan of the Eight Sequence method for writing out and plotting stories.
Video Game Writing: With so many quests and characters to keep track of, breaking each quest up into sequences or even your main story can be incredibly helpful! Take your video game idea and write down each sequence of your story as a summary and then go from there. Have a branching dialogue script? Even better! Keeping the eight sequences in mind, you can write out various versions of how the story will turn out for each sequence, treating it as a sort of subsequence. Then, shuffle it in and out of your story to see how it looks!
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