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From a Student's Eyes

In Depth Course Description from a Student’s Eyes: Structure Of A Screenplay

(Savannah Harvey’s Perspective from Spring 2014 for Engl 3000)

Structure of a Screenplay

            In Clemson University’s English department lies a hidden gem: the class known as Structure of a Screenplay, taught by Dr. Joshua Waggoner. The course objectives are as follows:

“The course is broken into three parts: the study of screenwriting techniques and conventions as well as the reading and analysis of seminal examples of the screenwriting genre, a workshop devoted to student scripts, and, lastly, a section examining methods for disseminating one’s work. By the end of the semester, students will not only have a command of the screenplay form, they will also have produced their own scripts and they will have some knowledge of getting these works into the marketplace.”

Structure of a Screenplay 2

In addition to being a brilliant writer, Dr. Waggoner is a very personable teacher and wants all of his students to gain an appreciation for the art of screenwriting and to succeed in this course. Students that are interested in screenwriting or even just creative writing in general should consider taking this course.

            The main texts required for this course are Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field, Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno, and Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger. These books help students gain a basic understanding of what goes into the development of a screenplay so that the students can begin work on the first act of their scripts.

Structure of a Screenplay 3 

           Dr. Waggoner discusses several films over a variety of genres that exemplify different screenwriting techniques, including Casablanca, Pulp Fiction, Adaptation, A Serious Man. These films illustrate various aspects of the screenplays, such as the structure of comedy, how to develop an exposition, and ways to break the conventions of cinema.                  

            In each class, Dr. Waggoner would provide a lesson on different facets of screenwriting that play a part in developing a successful screenplay. These lessons included how to develop a subject, how to develop characters, the importance of the first ten pages of the script, and definitions of plot points. All of these lessons contributed to the students’ knowledge of how to create the first act of their screenplays. To write their scripts, students download a software program called Celtx, which is easy to use and free.

            Once students complete the roughly thirty-page spec scripts, peer workshops begin. Students send out their scripts to their classmates prior to the class meeting; these are then discussed in class. The writer of the script indicates how harshly they are willing to accept outside views of their work, and the constructive criticism process begins.

            At the end of the semester, Dr. Waggoner gives examples of contests and festivals accepting scripts if students decide to complete their screenplay after the course has ended. With these future options in mind, students have all they need to continue their journey in creative writing and their perspectives changed by the course.