Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Write a Screenplay Outline

Write a Screenplay Outline

So, you’ve got a script idea, now what? Do you dive right in and start writing, or do you do some pre-writing work first? Everyone gets started differently, but today I’m here to tell you about the benefits of creating a screenplay outline!

I’ve started writing a script both by just jumping in and also by creating a well thought out outline. Which method I use depends on the script. When I just jump in, there’s a spontaneity there that works for some projects and reveals things to me during that writing process. If your story is complex, heavily layered, or you’re just really struggling with it, then creating an outline before you start can be a great help.

What should a screenplay outline look like?

You’re writing the outline to help yourself organize the story you’re trying to tell, so it can look like anything!

You might want to create something that looks like a beat sheet that’s not super detailed. It’s something to help you mark the major moments of the story. Something like this might end up just being a couple of pages.

Or you might want to go more in-depth. I’m talking specific scene descriptions, character breakdowns, important notes about the world. List every single scene if you want. Make it yours, include everything you feel is going to be necessary for the script. Using this approach might mean you end up with a 40-something page outline. If you do a real in-depth outline, you’re bound to have an easier time when it comes to writing the script because you will have planned everything out!

Either way, you want to do it, it’s pretty helpful to let your act structure aid in the outlining. So, if you have a Three Act Structure, then you can break things down by ACT I, ACT II, ACT III, and then think about what’s happening in each act. Think about beats, such as the following:

  • ACT I

    Inciting Incident

  • ACT II

    Obstacles, Midpoint

  • ACT III

    Climax, falling action

In yours, you can go more in-depth, include reversals, obstacles, turning points, or whatever you want to call those moments. Just think about all those key moments in your script, and make sure to jot them down in your outline.

How do I write out a screenplay outline?

I like to do my pre-writing the old-fashioned way, writing it out by hand. My preferred way of creating an outline is by using index cards. I’ll either use my index cards to write things out scene by scene or to create a broader outline that covers my major beats. I like index cards because I like to see everything spread out in front of me, and I also like the tangibility of being able to hold and flip through the cards.

You should approach an outline however you feel will work best for you. A typed document, handwritten in a notebook, or written out on index cards will work; use whatever best will aid you in your planning!

Taking the time to really work on outlining your ideas can help to create a tight, well thought out story. It might even save you time in following drafts because, ideally, you won’t have huge errors or things that don’t work in terms of the story since you’ll have paid close attention to those aspects during outlining. So next time you have a new script idea, give writing an outline a try! Happy writing!

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