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CMS 370 A: Basic Screenwriting

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MW 12:00pm - 2:10pm
ECE 031
Joint Sections: 
ENGL 387 A

Syllabus Description:

Instructor:         Shawn Wong

Office:               B423 Padelford Hall

Office Hours:    MW 2:30-3:30, Tuesdays 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:

 On Screenwriting by Freddie Gaffney 

 Selected screenplays available at: Links to an external site.


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 Canvas "Assignments" 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 & writing team discussion, work sessions, and completing the Canvas Discussion comments.

10% of your grade is based on submitting the evaluation of your collaboration with your group on Canvas "Assignments."

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) or use any other script writing software you might already have.


  • 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 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, "The Lotttery" by Shirley Jackson, and any Edgar Allen Poe story, "The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin.


  • Proofread, proofread, proofread all your writing assignments before turning them in.

Reading Schedule:


On Screenwriting 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 July 8th read: Introduction, Sections 1, 2 

By July 22nd read:  Sections 3, 4


Course & Reading Schedule:


June 24: Introductions, orientation and start selection process for a short story to adapt.  Review David Mamet memo to the writers of "The Unit."  Screen "Spider" short film & Fiat commercial for discussion of story structure.

June 26:  Meet in writing teams and discuss possible short stories to adapt.  Film clip from "The Girl in the Cafe" & screenplay basics

July 1: Your group should select a short story to adapt and upload it to Canvas assignments. Demonstration of celtx screenwriting software.  Analyze the short film "Apricot."

July 3:  Discussion of the Introduction from On Screenwriting. Analyze the short film "We've All Been There."

July 8:  Discussion of "Story" from the text.  Discussion of theme vs. logic.  Discussion of "Character" from the text.

July 10: Discussion of "Dialogue" from the text.  The difference between real dialogue and realistic dialogue.  Screen clips from "Juno."

July 15: Exam #1 and discussion of "Structure" from the text.

July 17: Discussion of film treatment and step outline format.  Writing Team group work.

July 22: Writing Team Group work on treatment, step outline and first draft of screenplay.

July 24: Writing Team Group work.  Character motivation work.

July 29: Exam #2 & Writing Team Group work.  Screenplay formatting check.  Typo check.  

July 31: Two group table reading run through (the same group you worked with on 7/22)

August 5:  Table Readings and Screenplay Workshop: Group 2 & 7

August 7: Table Readings and Screenplay Workshop: Group 3 & 1

August 12:  NO CLASS today.  National Holiday (I'm turning 70.)

August 14:  Table Readings and Screenplay Workshop:  Group 4 & 8

August 19:  Table Readings and Screenplay Workshop: Group 5 & 6

August 21: Exam #3 (online, which means you can take the exam from home or anywhere with WiFi during class time, 12-2:10)


Screenwriting Teams: 

  1. Vincent Jones, Corinna Kruger, Connor Tee (Construction Productions)
  2. Lenell Bynum, Zach Chilcote, Michael Creel (Writer's Block Productions)
  3. Bela Carpenter, Cera Chan, Ronald Engstrom (TBA Productions)
  4. Lissy Aschieris, Bryce Goodwin, Meelod Shaterian (Better Bear Productions)
  5. Payal Muni, Carolina Robles, Luke Schaefer (Short Short Shorts Studios)
  6. Marcquis Harris, Hana Tadesse, Jane Stafford (Kaleidoscope Studios)
  7. Jeanne Macbeth, Tom McIlwain, Norman Nguyen (Fresh Take Collective)
  8. Hassan Abdi, Brian Lee, Aubrey Unemori (Haubreyan Studios)
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 2, 2019 - 9:12pm