Screenwriting : Outlining by Allison Adams

Allison Adams


Hey everyone! I'm just about to start my Masters' thesis which is a feature length screenplay. Any favorite outlining tips that you have? I've used beat sheets and treatments/outlines before, but I was wondering if anyone has any other recommendations that you prefer. ie index cards, etc. Thanks!

David Liberman

There is no one method. Some folks prefer a beat sheet, others prefer a highly detailed outlined. Use whichever system is best for you. Personally, I use a simple three act break down, and write it out beat for beat. A feature length screenplay outline for me, tends to run around 5-8 pages, on average. The key for me, which is tantamount, is knowing my ending. If I know that, the outline is much easier to do.

Anthony Moore

I just started a new sci-fi screenplay but before I wrote word one, I had a detailed synopsis of the world that the story takes place in because it doesn't take place on Earth and part of the story revolves around the differences of modern planetary life as opposed to life on a giant spaceship that will take a full generation to reach its destination.

Ernest Langston

I'm a strong believer in outlining before starting on the first draft. I started with index cards and that works. Now, my outline style is a blend of the beat sheet format with occasional lines of dialogue; in other words, it's a basic road map to get me to my destination, flexible; it's there to keep me on track. I'd recommend starting with the script's logline. This way, you can explain your script's storyline in one to two sentences. Good luck!

Jody Ellis

Like David said, there is no one perfect method. Some people spend as much time outlining as they do writing their screenplay. Some outline it to death, in fact, until it becomes flat and ends up never getting written at all! Others find outlining really helps them stay focused and organized. Some use beat sheets, or do a synopsis. I personally don't do huge outlines. I have the story pretty well laid out in my head before I ever start, always have my ending set in stone for the most part. I try to bust out my first draft in 4-6 weeks (could prob do it faster if it weren't for the darn day job!) I will jot down notes or specific dialogue I want to include, otherwise I wing it. If I get stuck at some point, I might sit down and write out some more specific notes. I don't really like to spend a lot of time shuffling notecards or dithering with lists. But that's just me, and I realize my method is not really the "norm" per se.

Jake Parker

Everyone has something different they do. My way is similar to what Jody said above. I'm not huge on like an in depth outline. One, I have the tendency to get bored with the story and the writing if I spend too much time on one thing. So normally I do a basic outline of major story points. The beginning, middle, the end. Which normally includes big moments in between, like the climax. Once I know overall how things will turn out with my outline, it gives me the creative freedom to let my characters live on the page instead of forcing them into an outline. A lot of times I have to go back and rewrite it like crazy because I got carried away, but it prevents me from getting bored with it, and always feels fresh, and organic, when I'm writing it.

William Martell

I use a modified beat sheet broken up into (proposed) 5 minute / 5 page segments. It gives me a handle on pacing, and helps me when I'm writing (I can write 5 pages a day, and know that I'll make a deadline). Outlining is whatever gets the best results for you (which is not the same as whatever is easiest or most pleasant for you) - different people need different things. Here's some examples of my method:

Jacob Buterbaugh

William - Thanks for sharing your method. I'm going to try it. I imagine being able to see the entire story on one page is very helpful.

Stephen Barber

Allison, Pilar Alessandra has a podcast, "On the Page." You can find it on your phone. There's a specific one... #446. 'Return of The Coffee Break Screenwriter!' I think this is a fantastic approach to an explanation for (outlining) if you must search for a better way to do so. IMHO

Allison Adams

Thanks for the input, everyone!

Craig D Griffiths

I use cards (the Celtx app). Once I have the story I select cards for a single character (by selecting categories) and make sure they have a complete story in their own right. Plus I can see if they are consistent, are they the hero of their own story. Simple method.

Nick Brown

Try to limit it to one or two pages. Encapsulate all the main concepts, characters and key plot points. If it's for a 'selling document', don't draft less than ten times!

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