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CMS 370 A: Basic Screenwriting

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:20am
SAV 155

Syllabus Description:


CMS 370A: Basic Screenwriting (Version 01/05/2017)


Professor:            Shawn Wong

Office:             B423 Padelford Hall

Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 12-2, or by appointment

Phone:             (206) 616-0941




Course Description:


This is a screenwriting class, which means that the bulk of the responsibility for the success of this class is based on the writing you produce for the class and your critique of the writing done by your classmates.


The goal of the class is to prepare you for more independent writing and self-critique. The focus on the writing is centered more on revision, editing, adaptation of an existing fictional story and understanding the craft of the screenwriting.


The course is divided into four major areas: Story, Character, Dialogue and Structure.


Required Reading:


Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate by Brian McDonald (pdf copy will be provided)


Selected screenplays available at:


Course Writing Requirements:


  • Adaptation of a short story into a screenplay (written in collaborative writing teams of three or four students), which includes a synopsis, a step outline, and two drafts of a screenplay.
  • You are required to post comments on all the screenplays on the course Catalyst Go Post site (except your own screenplay).
  • You are required to submit an evaluation of your group collaboration at the end of the course on the course Catalyst WebQ site. All your comments will be confidential. I will be the only one reading them.
  • You are also required to work in collaborative writing teams. Failure to show up to work sessions with your group or missing deadlines established by your writing group can affect your grade.







60% of your grade is based on completing the writing assignments and completing the reading for the class.

20% of your grade is based on participating in class/section discussion, work sessions, and completing the Catalyst Go Post comments.

10% of your grade is based on the evaluation of your collaboration with your group on Catalyst WebQ.

10% of your grade is based on the quality, effort, and originality of your writing.


No grades are given out during the quarter.


Meeting the basic requirements of the class (completion of all assignments, participation in class and in writing lab groups, completion of the required reading) will yield a minimum final grade of 3.0.   A final grade above 3.0 will be based on the quality of your writing. It is possible for individual members in a writing group to receive different grades.


How do I grade myself during the course?


  • Am I a better writer at the end of the course?
  • Was I an effective co-writer and collaborator?
  • Did I meet all deadlines?
  • Did I take a fair share of the workload in my writing group?
  • Did I make substantive revisions to early drafts of the screenplay synopsis and screenplay?
  • Were the assignments I gave myself harder than the assignments required for the course? In other words, did I challenge myself to be a better writer?
  • Did I proofread my work before turning it in?


Writing Rules:


  • Download script writing software from (it’s free):


  • All scripts should be in .pdf format (celtx converts it automatically for you).


  • When turning in your work use the course Catalyst Collect It dropbox. Celtx automatically inserts the correct font, page numbers, etc. Be sure to fill out the title page information for your Celtx script.


  • Try to pick a story to adapt that is a complex, multi-layered character driven story, rather than action driven (meaning little dialogue is required), or bodice ripping gothic romance (lots of sighing and pining for your heartthrob), or pure fantasy (no unicorns), or talking animals.


  • The following stories can no longer be used for adaptation: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, “A Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish” by J.D. Salinger, “The Yellowpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien, “The Rocket Man” by Ray Bradbury, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver, and any Edgar Allen Poe story.


  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.


Reading Schedule:


Invisible Ink is a very short book. You should read it more than once and refer to it often during the writing of your screenplays. Keep reminding yourself of the story rules the book cites.


By January 9 read: Chapters 1, 2 & 3

By January 17 read:     Chapters 4, 5, & 6

By January 23 read:   Chapters 7, 8, 9 & 10


Exam and Assignment Schedule:


Jan. 9: Start selection process for a short story to adapt.

Jan 11: Your group should select a short story to adapt.

Jan 23:   Assignment #1 due: short film script based on a Craigslist ad

Jan. 27:   Film treatment & Step Outline on adaptation due

Feb. 3: First draft of screenplay adaptation due

March 13: Final drafts of screenplay due by 5:00 in Catalyst CollectIt dropbox


Course Catalyst Sites:


NOTE: Catalyst GoPost and WebQ sites will open later in the quarter.


Catalyst Collect It: For all assignments, revisions, group screenplays


Catalyst Common View: Course reader with assigned reading, short stories for adaptation, and screenplays:


Catalyst Go Post: Use this site for entering comments on all screenplays


Catalyst WebQ: Use this site for your group evaluation (all responses are confidential):



Course Schedule:



Part 1: Story


Jan. 4:                        The Girl in the Café & other film clips



                        Course outline and goals

                        Selecting a short story

                        Writing lab sections

                        Work teams


Jan. 9:                        Theme, premise, log line, etc.

                        The short film: “Apricot” by Ben Briand


                        Demonstration of celtx screenplay software.


Screenplay databases (

                        Examples of screenplays

                        How to read a screenplay

                        Name your production company


Jan. 11:            Thinking visually in a visual medium

                        The Poem as film & Craigslist ad as story


Jan. 16:            Holiday


Part 2:   Character


Jan. 18:            Character motivation & function

Jan. 23:             Writing a Treatment

                        Writing a Step Outline


Jan. 25:             Actors in character


Jan. 30:             In-class group work


Feb. 1:                        Exam #1 & in-class group work


Part 3: Dialogue


Feb. 6: Discussion of Dialogue: Real Conversation vs. Realistic Conversation


Feb. 8:            In class work session


Part 4: Structure


Feb. 13: Discussion of structure and the three-Act screenplay


Feb. 15: Rehearsals and group read through and work session

               Exam #2


Feb. 20: Holiday


Table Reading Schedule: Drafts of scripts to be read are due five days before your group is scheduled to read.


Feb. 22:   Screenplay reading & critique



Feb. 27: Screenplay readings & critique



March 1:   Screenplay readings & critique



March 6: Screenplay readings & critique



March 8: Screenplay readings & critique










Screenwriting Teams:




Emery Minh

Anna Saephan

Hilina Kidane




Kevin Hong

Kendall Horan

Kathleen Chavey-Reynaud




Hayden Casey

Henry Baker

Henry Slater




Haley Rogers

Haley Suarez

Elizabeth Alvarado




Robert Horton

Ryan Rogerson

Chelsea Gish




Mackenzie Webster

Megan Bernovich

Michael He




Cristopher Nix

Cassie Elenes

Katie Smith






Gabriela Capestany

Minna Lee

Season Qiu




Orion Fox

Yayun Gu

Karen Wennerstrom




Douglas Tran

Ayaka Fujimoto

David Berck



Catalog Description: 
Students develop collaborative critical and creative skills; studying screenwriting manuals and techniques; adapt stories for screenplays; and/or write synopses, treatments, and first acts of their own screenplays.
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 4, 2017 - 9:03pm