Something Startling Happens (The Missing Chapter)
By Todd Klick
When The Writers Store asked me to write a "missing chapter" for my book, I immediately knew what I wanted to cover! You see, in Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs To Know, I focus on the minute-by-minute beats that all successful movies utilize. The examples we couldn't fit into the book, however, was how the minute-by-minute beats work equally as well for successful TV shows, too! It’s a universal story rhythm that unites all great stories, whether they’re on the big screen or small.
To prove my point, I busted out my faithful stopwatch and broke down two random and wildly different TV shows: Dexter (an hour-long modern day drama) and an old Twilight Zone classic from the ‘50s, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (a half-hour anthology series). Both episodes hit the minute-by-minute beats in succession like a well-oiled metronome, as do all classic stories. You’ll also notice that when Twilight Zone ends at Minute 23, Dexter keeps hitting the set-in-stone beats from Minute 24 onward:
MINUTE 1: ATTENSION!
Tension grabs our attention from the get-go:DEXTER: Dexter says, “Tonight’s the night” (he’s going to murder someone).
TWILIGHT ZONE: The neighbors on Maple Street hear a weird noise and see a strange light.
MINUTE 2: THE BUILD
The tension builds:DEXTER: Dexter wraps a cord around a victim’s neck.
TWILIGHT ZONE: The neighborhood’s electricity and phones cease working
MINUTE 3: THE RATCHET
The tension ratchets up a notch:
DEXTER: Dexter takes his victim into the woods.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Worried neighbors gather.
MINUTE 4: ANOTHER NOTCH
And yet another notch:
DEXTER: Dexter shows the victim (a serial killer) that he’s found the people he’s murdered.
TWILIGHT ZONE: In addition to the electricity not working, Steve’s car won’t start.
MINUTE 5: JAW DROPPER
DEXTER: Dexter admits he’s a serial killer, too, but he has standards (a jaw-dropping statement).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Tommy, a neighbor boy, suggests that aliens from outer space don’t want them to leave (a jaw-dropping comment).
MINUTE 6: FRIEND OR FIST
DEXTER: Dexter uses his forensic tools to torture the killer—his ally in killing people (Friend and Fist).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Steve listens to Tommy’s ideas about aliens (Friend).
MINUTE 7: FRIEND OR FIST 2
DEXTER: Young Dexter and his foster father have a tense conversation on a boat (Friend and Fist).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Steve listens to other neighbor’s thoughts on what’s going on (Friend).
MINUTE 8: SOMETHING STARTLING HAPPENS
DEXTER: Dexter pulls out blood samples from his secret stash hidden in his air conditioner!
TWILIGHT ZONE: Les’s car starts on its own, as if by magic (and startles everyone)!
MINUTE 9: THE PURSUIT
DEXTER: Dexter pursues a crime scene, upon his foster sister’s request.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Neighbors pursue “oddball” Les to see why he didn’t come outside when they did.
MINUTE 10: THE DISCUSSION
DEXTER: Dexter and his detective-sister discuss the serial killer’s motives.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Neighbors discuss the possibility of one of them being a monster.
MINUTE 11: THE WARNING
DEXTER: Dexter warns his sister that if she doesn’t learn to be more diplomatic, it could hurt her career. He also warns her to avoid Lt. LaGuerta.
TWILIGHT ZONE: A neighbor woman warns everyone that Les “stares at the stars in the middle of the night.”
MINUTE 12: HARSHER WARNING
DEXTER: Dexter learns that there is no blood inside the victim (a warning that he’s dealing with a skilled killer).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Les warns them that they’re “starting something that’s a nightmare.”
MINUTE 13: THE SUBMISSION
DEXTER: Dexter says he has to “get out of here” (submits to the main killer).
TWILIGHT ZONE: The worried neighbors retreat to their own lawns and porches, and discuss their situation in private (they submit to the threat).
MINUTE 14: DANGER WATCH
DEXTER: Lt. LaGuerta approaches Dexter and winks at him (she wants to start an affair with him, which is dangerous for his career and relationship).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Les tells his approaching neighbors that there’s going to be trouble if they step onto his property (dangerous for their well-being).
MINUTE 15: WHEW, THAT WAS CLOSE!
DEXTER: A female coworker expresses curiosity about why Dexter is so into blood cases, but he deftly deflects her suspicions (Whew!).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Neighbors accuse Steve of being an alien, but he retaliates verbally and digs himself back out of suspicion (Whew!)
MINUTE 16: THE BIG CONCERN
DEXTER: Dexter’s coworker is concerned she’ll get fired for helping him.
TWILIGHT ZONE: The concerned neighbors want to know what Steve does with that radio he built down in his basement.
MINUTE 17: WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
DEXTER: Sgt. Doakes bosses Dexter around, and says, “You give me the creeps.” (This could turn Dexter’s secret world upside down).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Steve yells at his neighbors and shuts them up (their paranoia could turn Steve’s peaceful life upside down).
MINUTE 18: TROUBLE TURN
DEXTER: Sgt Doakes is the only one who “gets the creeps” from Dexter, could be big trouble for Dexter.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Someone walks towards the neighbors. They think he’s a monster. Could be trouble. Charlie shoots him.
MINUTE 19: THE THREAT
DEXTER: Dexter learns that the killer “knows how to use a blade” (a threat to his life).
TWILIGHT ZONE: Lights suddenly turn on in Charlie’s house (a threat to their safety).
MINUTE 20: PUSH BACK
DEXTER: Dexter eyes up a sleaze ball killer he wants to murder.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Les, who was accused earlier, now accuses Charlie.
MINUTE 21: THE GREAT AFFECT
DEXTER: A dog charges, which affects Dexter.
TWILIGHT ZONE: They accuse the boy and chase after him. Steve yells “Stop!”
MINUTE 22: TRUTH DECLARED
DEXTER: Young Dexter confesses to his dad that he wants to kill people.
TWILIGHT ZONE: “You fools!” yells a neighbor.
MINUTE 23: SCARY STUFF
DEXTER: Dexter dates someone “as damaged as he is.”
TWILIGHT ZONE: Aliens observe that humans will kill each other if you simply turn off their power. THE END
MINUTE 24: SCARY STUFF 2
DEXTER: Dexter’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend repeatedly raped her.
MINUTE 25: SCARY STUFF 3
DEXTER: “Normal people are so hostile” Dexter says as he watches them bash lobsters.
MINUTE 26: THE BIG UNEXPECTED
DEXTER: The detectives find another mutilated victim, who’s been beheaded!
MINUTE 27: THE MINI-QUEST
DEXTER: Dexter touches his girlfriend’s leg and moves it upwards (his mini-quest towards sex).
MINUTE 28: BIG QUEST PREP
DEXTER: Dexter researches the main killer on the internet (in preparation to find him).
MINUTE 29: BIG QUEST PREP 2
DEXTER: Dexter’s foster father suggests that teenage Dexter channel his need to kill (preparing him to be a killer of bad people).
MINUTE 30: THE NEED
DEXTER: Teenage Dexter needs to kill people.
MINUTE 31: DISTRESS SIGNAL
DEXTER: Dexter’s distressed father says there are bad people that deserve killing.
MINUTE 32: ANXIETY AMP
DEXTER: Dexter’s adrenaline increases. “Preparation is vital” he says.
MINUTE 33: OMINOUS OH NO!
DEXTER: Dexter’s sister asks him about his relationship with his girlfriend (an ominous question for conflicted Dexter).
MINUTE 34: FRIEND AFFECT
DEXTER: Dexter’s sister (his friend) mentions a clue he wishes he had thought of.
MINUTE 35: BAIT & SWITCH
DEXTER: Dexter figures out that the killer uses a refrigerated truck (that’s how he’s been baiting and switching the detectives).
MINUTE 36: HIDE & SEEK
DEXTER: The deft main killer remains hidden while the detectives seek him.
MINUTE 37: OVER HIS HEAD
DEXTER: Dexter’s nervous sister states her theory in front of the detectives (she’s way over her head).
MINUTE 38: POSITIVE RECONNECT
DEXTER: Dexter supports his sister after she fails in the meeting.
MINUTE 39: NEW JOURNEY BOND
DEXTER: Dexter bonds with Lt. LaGuerta because of his new observations about the killer.
MINUTE 40: ALLY’S WORLD
DEXTER: Jaworski cuts chains (Dexter’s ally in this case, who’s helping Dexter channel his desires to kill).
MINUTE 41: THORNY ROSE
DEXTER: Jaworski sees a pretty picture of a woman (the Rose), but it’s someone he murdered (the Thorn).
MINUTE 42: SURPRISE REVEAL
DEXTER: Dexter’s girlfriend calls in the middle of his killing, apologizes and asks what he’s doing now (she reveals she wants to have sex, which surprises Dexter).
MINUTE 43: SURPRISE REVEAL 2
DEXTER: A cold storage truck pulls up—could be the possible main killer. “No way,” Dexter says, surprised.
MINUTE 44: NEW NEWS
DEXTER: Dexter learns that the truck is a Miami Chills Ice Refrigerated Delivery truck (new key information).
MINUTE 45: OUT OF THE ORDINARY
DEXTER: The main killer tosses out a severed human head for Dexter (an out of the ordinary gesture from him).
MINUTE 46: THE REVELATION
DEXTER: Lt. LaGuerta reveals they found the other minor killer. Lt. LaGuerta also reveals that she wants Dexter sexually.
MINUTE 47: THE ESCORT
DEXTER: Dexter’s car takes him to his girlfriend’s place.
MINUTE 48: NEEDED KNOWLEDGE
DEXTER: Dexter’s girlfriend takes off her clothes; she wants to take their relationship to the next level (knowledge that Dexter needed to know from her).
MINUTE 49: FOREBODING FACT
DEXTER: The girlfriend’s kid threw up (foreboding fact)—they won’t be able to have sex, which Dexter now desires.
MINUTE 50: THE PORTENT
DEXTER: Dexter sees a head on his refrigerator door, and a mini-severed body inside.
MINUTE 51: THE ENGAGE DEXTER: Dexter says, “I wanna play, I really do” (he wants to engage with the enemy).
As you can see, the Something Startling Happens beats work minute-by-minute whether it’s a half-hour sci-fi classic from the 1950s, or a successful, modern day hour-long drama. To learn much more about all the minute-by-minute beats, and how to apply them to your screenplay, TV pilot, novel or graphic novel, order Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs To Know at The Writers Store.
Meet the Author: Todd Klick
Writer and producer, Todd Klick, is the bestselling author of Beat By Beat: A Cheat Sheet for Screenwriters and Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs to Know. Todd's stories earned accolades with the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship and the PAGE International screenwriting competitions. He has optioned and sold numerous scripts. Todd is a frequent speaker and panelist at writing conventions, contributor to The Huffington Post and MovieMaker Magazine, and has appeared on Dateline NBC and NPR.