Skip to Main Content

Film Studies

This guide is an introduction to the resources for Film Studies at Dartmouth. If you are interested in Television, see the separate research guide for Television.

A short definition for screenwriting

A document setting out all the scenes, dialogue, and action of a feature film, sometimes including details of camera position, camera angle,shot size, and so on (see shooting script). The script identifies what needs to be shot, what has to be made in terms of sets, props and costumes, the locations that will be required, the roles to be cast, and the time frame of the shoot. A script is in essence, and crucially, a planning document: it is used in budgeting and arranging the production of the film. So, for example, production personnel, including those responsible for casting, costume, hair, props, and special effects, will make use of the information in the script in planning their work. The format and style of a script are functional and follow recognized conventions (for example, all scripts are presented in 12-point Courier font), and these are consistent across the film production industry.

[Source: Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Script. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 Feb. 2021]

Storytelling terminology

The vocabulary used in the mainstream film industry for story development and scriptwriting, developed with the purpose of keeping plot, action, and character motivation as clear as possible so as to maximize audience involvement. Some of this terminology is taken from drama and literature, and some has been created ad hoc. Character establishment is the key to both narrative clarity and audience involvement, and a mainstream fiction film will ensure that each of a story’s main characters is established through a specific scene or vignette. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, US, 1972), the story of a mafia crime family, establishes the main characters through various scenes set at a wedding that takes place early in the film. The inciting incident, also known as the disruption of equilibrium, sets up a through-line for the central characters of the film, and this ensures that the characters are seen to have clear goals, or character objectives. In The Godfather, the head of the crime family, the Don, is badly wounded in an assassination attempt. This is the inciting incident: it disrupts the equilibrium of the fictional world set out in the opening scenes, where the Don’s authority is shown as ensuring peace and stability. The through-line of the Don’s eldest child, Sonny, established by the attack on his father, is to kill his father’s enemies: this goal motivates Sonny’s actions in a range of scenes. The through-line of a character, their overarching external goal, translates into specific scene-objectives, action beats and change of beats (see beats), and this consistency ensures that the audience can understand a character’s actions. If a character were to break their through-line, their actions would become confusing because their behaviour would appear to have no coherent motivation. Clarity of motivation—consistency of through-line—creates the emotional bond between viewer and character that is the aim of the mainstream film. Character arc sets out how a character is changed and influenced by events in the story. In The Godfather, Michael, the Don’s youngest son, is established as someone who is going to follow his own path: he does not intend take part in the family’s activities. However, through a number of incidents—the assassination attempt on the Don, the need to assassinate a closely-guarded adversary, and the revelation of a conspiracy against the Don—Michael’s intentions are changed. His character arc takes him from being outside the family to being its committed leader. In a mainstream film it is important that the character arc be resolved and returned to equilibrium. The central character needs to achieve their external objective, and this is also likely to resolve an inner conflict. For Michael, the son in The Godfather, taking charge of the family means he is able to protect the Don: this constitutes the resolution of Michael’s external goal. This protective role also allows Michael to express his love and respect for his father, an unresolved tension—an inner conflict—established at the start of the film. Conflict, tension, and resolution are regarded as the essential ingredients for a feature film story that has the plot and the momentum necessary to involve an audience. Film scriptwriting uses the dramatic theatrical terms protagonist and antagonist because central characters in an adversarial relationship is an age-old dramatic trope.   ...

[Source: Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Storytelling terminology. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 May. 2023]

In the Library's collections

The following are useful subject headings for searching the online catalog.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book title(s)

Other library resource(s)

Between the collections in Rauner Special Collections and Baker/Berry Libraries, Dartmouth has a large collection of scripts. Do a title search for the movie you want and see what you find.

Finding scholarly articles & journals

Articles and other writings about screenwriting can be found in many publications. Our collection doesn't have any current titles that look exclusively at screenwriting. You can use Film & Television Literature Index or the search box at the top of the page.

Internet resource(s)