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Outlining Your Screenplay Before You Write: Things to Keep in Mind

If you have any knowledge of screenwriting, then you know the importance of having an outline. As broad as the term is, an outline is an essential part of the process since it makes it easier to stay on track with your story. Without any accurate guidance to look back on, it may make it challenging to develop your script fully.

Crafting a screenplay demands a systematic approach that organizes plot points, character arcs, and overall story structure. Whether you are a seasoned screenwriter or a novice in the field, mastering the art of outlining a screenplay will equip you with an indispensable organizational tool you can utilize for years.

Photo credit: Filmmaking Lifestyle

What is a Script Outline?

A script outline, or screenplay outline in screenwriting, is a comprehensive breakdown of your movie scene-by-scene. It transforms your premise and logline into a fully developed story. This detailed outline may encompass the following:

● Plot points and story beats

● Scene descriptions

● Character arcs

● Dialogue snippets

● Act breaks

The Importance of a Script Outline

By providing a clear roadmap for your writing, a screenplay outline can keep you on track and well-organized while alerting you to potential problems before they arise. This allows you to maintain a logical progression of your story and write more efficiently when it's time to put your screenplay on paper.

Moreover, a well-crafted outline can help you monitor the growth of your characters. Viewers are drawn to dynamic characters who transform the story. With a detailed scene-by-scene outline, you can track the progress of multiple characters and ensure they each receive the growth they deserve.

Many writers claim you should dive head first into it and focus on the writing aspect rather than worry about an outline. As vital as that might seem, an outline will significantly help the writing process, especially as you start. Although we’ll discuss some things to remember, an outline can vary depending on the writer’s preference.

What to Keep in Mind

The modern era has granted writers endless tools to benefit their writing in the best way. Screenwriting software generally provides a step-by-step outlining tool to help scriptwriters through story development. As you create your outline, there are several things to remember to ensure you're getting the most out of the outlining process.

Film Treatment

Most film classes or writing courses center around film treatments as an outline. Like what we said about an outline, a film treatment is a brief synopsis of a television show or movie that conveys the project's crucial scenes, themes, and tone. Its purpose is to captivate and persuade buyers and producers to read, develop, or potentially acquire your concept.

A treatment typically includes the following:

  1. Title

  2. Primary Name and Contact Info

  3. Logline

  4. Character Information

  5. Synopsis

Character Sketches

A character sketch is a written passage that concisely depicts an individual or character to the reader. Mastering writing a character sketch can enhance your ability to write more compelling and engaging characters. Furthermore, practicing this skill can refine your summarizing capabilities, benefitting you as a writer in a broader sense.

A character sketch is a written piece that can be created for any character, whether from a novel, story, history, or real life. Its purpose is to swiftly and accurately present a comprehensive overview of the character's attributes to the reader. Here are some guidelines for writing a character sketch:

● Begin by researching the character's physical characteristics, personality traits, emotions, and other essential attributes that must be highlighted.

● Develop a descriptive snapshot of the character by focusing on the specific traits that are most significant. However, avoid turning the sketch into a full-fledged history of the character. Initially, create a rough draft and refine it until it meets your standard. Proofreading is crucial to eliminate any errors.

● Use concise, straightforward sentences that enable the reader's understanding of the character's personality. Think of it as allowing the reader to visualize the character easily.

Expand Your Beat Sheet

A beat sheet is a condensed summary of your entire screenplay, typically several pages long and more detailed than a logline. It outlines the significant action and character development in your screenplay in a lengthy format. Use a beat sheet to record and organize your ideas for your screenplay.

If you already have an outline that covers the beats of your story (whenever something important happens), go back to it and expand it. A good rule is to think about how you can connect each beat.

Use it as a Tool

The last point to highlight is the importance of using your outline as a tool. It’s widespread for people to dive into the outline portion and never look back on it once they start writing. As great as it is to get into the writing spirit, it doesn’t matter if you’re not looking back on the hard work you put into your outline. The outline is there to guide you, so use it!


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