Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Montage

Does anyone else get completely wrapped up in their storylines? Because I certainly do. Much like any other writer, I view my screenplay as my baby. I know everything about it and sometimes, a couple hours isn’t enough to cover all that’s needed.

Whether your plot spans over a few years, or there are multiple storylines that have to be woven together, a montage can be an incredibly helpful tool when laying out all the details. If we didn’t have them, our scripts would either be lacking crucial information, or dreadfully long.

I mean, can you imagine watching Rocky without ever witnessing his triumphant run up those 72 steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Alternatively, think about having to sit through the actual timeline of all that training instead. Both scenarios aren’t ideal, so this is where a montage really shines.

rocky montage gif

What is a Montage in Screenwriting?

By definition, a montage is an editing technique that groups together a series of shots to form a continuous sequence. Since this allows us to communicate larger pieces of information in a more digestible way, there is a lot of room for creative freedom here.

While there isn’t one standard format montages have to follow, there is a ton of industry approved advice out there that’ll help guide you in the right direction. 

Let’s take a closer look!

Planning Your Montage

Before you can begin putting everything to paper, knowing what purpose you want your montage to serve is essential. By organizing these goals, it becomes much easier to produce something that’ll really resonate with your audience.

There are countless reasons why someone might add a montage to their screenplay, however, the following five are most popular.

1) It condenses your timeline. 
If you’re writing a script and need to speed something up, a montage can help get you from A to B in a more engaging way. Much like the Rocky reference, nobody wants to sit through hours worth of the same scenario! Instead, a montage is perfect for accelerating things without having to sacrifice any key information.

It develops your characters.
Montages allow you to filter out any fluff and focus on the vital details about your characters. For example, if you’re trying to showcase your villain as they descend into madness, a montage can help you highlight each character arc without any distractions getting in the way.

3) It evokes emotion from the audience.
When I’m looking to pull on some heartstrings, a montage is my favorite tool to use. I find this technique is especially beneficial thanks to its artistic nature. If I’m trying to build anticipation, for instance, I can splice together quick shots to mimic that sensation visually.

It weaves multiple storylines together.
I love giving my characters multiple goals to achieve in a script, but this isn’t always a time conducive practice. With the help of a montage, though, I don’t have to worry about that. They allow me to reveal various themes and intertwine them neatly. You even can use a montage to compare and contrast how these themes influence one another.

It presents necessary facts.
Let’s say I’m writing a fantasy screenplay and I need to explain some significant details about my setting. In this case, using a montage to lay everything out concisely would be very handy. The audience needs to know what environment they’re about to step into, but they shouldn’t have to sit through hours of worldbuilding to understand everything either.

Formatting and Screenplay Montage Examples

Now that we know what a montage is and why writers utilize them, it’s time to start thinking about your formatting options. 

Don’t let the lack of strict rules fool you here, this isn’t something that should be chosen at random. Every selection you make should serve a purpose and elevate your screenplay, so you should be choosing a format that suits your creative vision.

The best way to find a set-up that’ll enhance your writing is by asking yourself what your montage is going to look like. Most importantly, you want to figure out how many locations your montage will span across.

Single Location Montages

When writing a single location montage, you’ll want to indicate what type of scene you’re writing first. To do this, specify where your montage begins at the start of the scene. You can incorporate as much or as little detail as you’d like here.

If the scene leading up to my montage provides context on its theme, I’ll usually keep my header simple.

begin montage

However, if my montage is presenting entirely new information, I’ll add some detail about what subject it’s going to follow.

Montage of rubys makeover

You’ll use a similar system when concluding your montage.

A straightforward END MONTAGE header will suffice, but if your next scene takes place in a new location, you can also use a slugline to show everything is finished up.

Quick montage

Multiple Location Montages

Much like a single location montage, you’ll also want to use headers to highlight where your montage begins. And as you jump from location to location, you can continue utilizing headers to be clear about where everything is taking place. 

Some writers achieve this by adding sluglines throughout their montages.

Montage of lisas failed dates

Simply mentioning each location change can be equally as helpful, though.

Montage of lias failed dates

The last ingredient needed when cooking up a montage is your structure. You’ve plotted everything out, chosen a purpose to fulfill, your format has its foundation…and now, you can finally sprinkle in those finishing touches by structuring your content.

Many montages follow a structure that breaks each moment down into bite-size pieces. It’s customary to see symbols like dashes, ellipses, and numbers being used to achieve this. You can also forgo the symbols all together during this step, though. 

Each of these options gives a slightly different feel to the montage, and changes the way a reader experiences it. So, I’d always recommend considering the mood you’re trying to convey before picking anything out.

For example, stacking everything together with numericals can make it feel like suspense is building. On the flip side, if I’m hoping to make a situation seem more relaxed, I could use ellipses, to mimic time flowing in an easygoing way. 

Picnic traditional montage

Dashes might appear more quick-paced or dramatic, whereas a lack of symbols explains everything neutrally. Some writers even mix and match these options. You could waive the symbols for the longer scenes within your montage, and use something like an asterisk to indicate the quicker cuts that come next. 

Montge of devin getting ready

You don’t even have to break anything down, though. There are many writers out there who prefer keeping their montages in paragraph form instead. This can be just as productive as the above-mentioned structures, as long it’s still clear you’re writing a montage.

Int gabriels house

Take note of how this example is presented. The header shares the location while also drawing attention to what type of scene this is. And by designating each time skip, the individual moments get separated without having to start any new paragraphs.

Whether you’re delivering your montage as a full paragraph or a series of isolated sentences, the ability to paint a picture in your readers’ minds will always be your greatest superpower as a screenwriter. If there’s one thing I hope you take away from our article, it’s that!

With a vast array of options out there, it can get a little overwhelming when choosing which route you want to take. By this point, you may be wondering, which choice is right for me? And with full confidence, I can tell you that the right decision will always be the one that best suits your screenplay. 

Be sure to consider your goals, how many locations you’ll be using, and what mood you’re hoping to convey to the audience. The answers to these questions will unlock the secret to an effective montage and have you writing one like an expert in no time!

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