The boneyard is a place where screenwriters go when they want to gain new perspectives, ideas, and inspiration.
A boneyard is a term used to describe some aspect of a story or idea that a screenwriter has shelved.
Often for an undetermined amount of time.
Let’s take a look!
What Is the boneyard
What Is the boneyard in screenwriting?
The Boneyard is the section of your script where you can find a bunch of useful sections like your characters, their descriptions and actions, their dialogue, and more. It also includes your scene headings and transitions.
In some screnwriting apps, you can find an aspect of your screen reserved for the boneyard.
It’s called a boneyard because it’s just a collection of all the bones of your screenplay that you can then easily copy-paste into your script.
In some circles, The Boneyard can also refer to a list of scenes that were cut from your script because they didn’t contribute to the main story or plot points.
This can literally be a section of your script where you put ideas you’re not currently using.
Maybe you had them in the past, but as your script has evolved you realize they’re not going to cut it for whatever reason.
There are two ways that this can come about:
- You purposely write a scene that you plan on cutting later.
- You write a scene in your draft and then decide to cut it during revisions.
In both of these cases, the scenes are cut because they don’t move the story forward or don’t add anything important to it.
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be resurrected at some point.
What Is The Boneyard In Screenwriting?
The boneyard is one of the most important, but least understood, elements of the script.
When we talk about boneyard, we’re talking about that place where you go to collect elements for a scene.
It’s made up of all the bits and pieces that you’ve already written and can be used as an easy reference point.
In fact, it’s most likely that several scenes you write come from things you’ve already written in the boneyard.
Let’s look at an example:
You are writing an early scene in your story where your hero goes to work and meets his boss.
You don’t want to get too bogged down in this scene because you want the reader to feel like they are moving through the movie with enough pace and momentum.
Let’s say that the boss has been stinking up the workplace with his halitosis.
Maybe he eats lunch at his desk and doesn’t have time to brush his teeth before getting back to work. Or maybe he’s chain-smoking some really foul cigarettes and everyone has to deal with it because he’s the boss and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Instead of involving these details within the first draft of the script, you may wish to shelve them in the boneyard, to focus on the plot point instead. In a later draft, you can visit the boneyard in order to weave these details in as you find necessary.
What Is The Boneyard Used For In Screenwriting?
If you’re looking to branch out into professional screenwriting, you will quickly learn that there are a lot of complicated processes involved. However, one of the most important, and yet least known steps exists before you even begin work on your screenplay.
Screenplays don’t come in arbitrary formats; instead, they are created following strict standards that everyone has to follow — these standards include everything from margins and font sizes to the length of a script’s pages. What is this process? You’ve guessed it — it’s the boneyard.
The boneyard represents the idea of coming up with ideas that will never be used. The screenwriter can add any topic into the boneyard, then later use any of the topics in their script.
The boneyard is a bit like a junk drawer. In every drawer in your house there are some clippings, notes, or other pieces of paper that you might keep for years — or never use again. With the boneyard, it’s a little more organized.
But you’ll need to choose the items wisely, as a screenwriter only has so much time to write their film before they are forced to revise their script until it is picture-perfect.
When To Use The Boneyard In Screenwriting
The Boneyard is a character development screenplay device where the protagonist must interact with and think about inactive characters from previous screenplays. By creating a cast of recurring characters, your protagonist can learn, be inspired, or even be shocked by their actions and words.
The Boneyard contains scenes and situations that are not as strong, or maybe even totally unusable. These are ideas and/or directions that were tried out, found wanting, and discarded. It is from the Boneyard that a writer digs up the elusive gems to polish and make them shine!
As an exercise, we are going to create a narrative that involves talking with ourselves. We’ll be two people in the scene and will each have a different point of view on what the scene is about.
We will first have the view of one person who thinks everything is fine and then the other’s dramatic discovery that things aren’t as fine as one would think.
The Writer’s Boneyard And Other Hacks For Screenwriting
The Writer’s Boneyard And Other Hacks for Screenwriting is a fast and easy read that can help you get your larger writing goals accomplished. It is filled with information about the best ways to finish your screenplay fast and easily.
You will learn what it takes to create a large movie screenwriting project, so you will be able to surprise yourself with how simple it can be. Screenwriter and New York Times bestselling author John August has been there, and he’s got the t-shirt (or, okay, the Word document).
With this handbook of writing wisdom for screenwriters, August doles out insights and inspiration for navigating the writing process in clear, funny, thoughtful terms. Learn from dozens of tips from Hollywood writers on outlining your story, beating writer’s block, overcoming distractions, building self-confidence, and much more–all informed by August’s own struggles as a working writer.
Jimmy Daly has been both a professional screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for over a decade. He’s been on staff at Pixar and is a frequent screenwriting instructor across the country.
Jimmy shares his knowledge of the craft, detailing the steps leading up to creating an action-intensive screenplay (and why it’s important), common narrative mistakes he sees in young writers, and why stories need conflict.