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CMS 370 A: Basic Screenwriting

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
MGH 271

Syllabus Description:

CMS 370A: Basic Screenwriting 


Instructor:         Shawn Wong

Office:               B423 Padelford Hall

Office Hours:    MW 10:00-11:00, and 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 

 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 Canvas "Discussion" 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 Canvas Discussion 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. You may make an appointment to talk to me if you have questions about your course grade.


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 if you choose the student edition).


  • All scripts should be in .pdf format when you upload them to Canvas (celtx will convert it to .pdf for you).  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 Yellow Wallpaper” 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, "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler, "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury, "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut,
  • 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 10 read: Chapters 1, 2 & 3

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

By January 24 read:   Chapters 7, 8, 9 & 10


Exam and Assignment Schedule:


Jan. 8: Start selection process for a short story to adapt.

Jan 10: Your group should select a short story to adapt.

Jan 22:   Assignment #1 due: short film script based on a Craigslist ad

Jan. 26:   Film treatment & Step Outline on adaptation due

Feb. 2: First draft of screenplay adaptation due

March 12: Final drafts of screenplay due by 5:00 in Canvas assignments


Catalyst WebQ sites will open later in the quarter.


Course Schedule:



Part 1: Story


Jan. 3:                        



                        Course outline and goals

                        Selecting a short story

                        Screenwriting teams


Jan. 8:             Theme, premise, log line, etc.

                        The short film: “Apricot” by Ben Briand

                       "The Girl in the Cafe" film clips

                        Demonstration of celtx screenplay software.


Screenplay databases (

                        Examples of screenplays

                        How to read a screenplay

                        Name your production company


Jan. 10:            Thinking visually in a visual medium

                        Craigslist ad as story


Jan. 15:            Holiday


Part 2:   Character


Jan. 17:            Character motivation & function

Jan. 22:             Writing a Treatment

                        Writing a Step Outline


Jan. 24:             Actors in character


Jan. 29:             In-class group work


Jan. 31:              Exam #1 & in-class group work


Part 3: Dialogue


Feb. 5: Discussion of Dialogue: Real Conversation vs. Realistic Conversation


Feb. 7:            In class work session


Part 4: Structure


Feb. 12: Discussion of structure and the three-Act screenplay


Feb. 14: Rehearsals and group read through and work session

               Exam #2


Feb. 19: Holiday


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


Feb. 21:   Screenplay reading & critique

 Some Pulp Studios

 No Name Productions

Table reading draft due in Canvas on 2/17.

Feb. 26: Screenplay readings & critique

 The Telegraphers Productions

 Fox Force 5 Productions

Table reading draft due in Canvas on 2/21.

Feb. 28:   Screenplay readings & critique

 Pudding Productions

 District 9 Productions

Table reading draft due in Canvas on 2/23.

March 5: Screenplay readings & critique

MKY Productions

Mark Twain Lives Productions

Table reading draft due on March 1.

March 7: Screenplay readings & critique










Screenwriting Teams:  MKY Productions

MKY Productions

Madison Nevin

Yiwen Niu

Kendal Solak 


Pudding Productions

Melissa Ouk

Austin Payne

Miles Pimentel 


Some Pulp Studios

Aashna Dev

Michelle Ostler

Nick Young 


The Telegraphers Productions LLC

Kenneth Herndon

Shahbaz Khan

Ryan Swen

Dylan Peacock  



Shelby Hartness

Lindsey Muszkiewicz

Hayley Nordberg-Strouse


Mark Twain Lives Productions LLC

Pooja Ghelani

Anna Onstad-Hargrave

Carl Stavney


Fox Force 5 Productions

Lindsey Bauer

Vivian Chuang

Vivek Raigaga 


District 9 Productions

 Michelle Deleon

Andrew Mortier

James Peirce






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: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:32pm