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How To Make A Screenplay Outline

Adam Scott

This article will discuss how to make a screenplay outline, showing you how to put together a simple and effective outline. The format I use is based on the Triple Five Element outlining method.

Here’s how it works

Using the following structure, I outline the screenplay in an overview view, indicating where each scene will be. Then I outline each scene in more detail, adding in details and information about the characters and plot that relates to the actions in the scene.

I keep these outlines separate from the screenplay so I can refer to them easily and use this structure to create the first draft of the screenplay. The summary that comes in the last section is just a summary of everything that’s been written, but it’s a good place to be too.

It sounds easy enough to create a script outline, but it’s not. If you don’t have a script already, I recommend that you make yourself one.

I’ll show you how to do it in this article.

Why you’d want to make a screenplay outlineWoman in black long sleeve shirt sitting beside woman in black long sleeve shirt

Screenplays are used to help determine how a film should look and feel. They’re also used to help determine where a film is headed and what to keep in mind while making decisions throughout the filmmaking process.

I’ve used scripts to help determine the tone of my novels and short stories. This is just a method that helps me get through the writing process.

With screenplays, the primary job of the writer is to make the film as good as possible and to make it as interesting as possible. It’s also a way to help get the film made.

If you’ve ever seen a movie with a bad screenplay, then you’ve seen a bad movie.

Make screenplaysYoung lady typing on keyboard of laptop in living room

To make a screenplay outline, you’ll need:

  • A computer or word processor (Mac or PC)
  • A pencil, paper, or a computer with a simple text editor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Open Office
  • A pen and a piece of chalk or a dry erase board
  • A scene breakdown
  • A separate spreadsheet for all the scenes in the screenplay

Start by putting everything into the scene breakdown. The example below shows what an outline might look like.

As you can see, it’s based on a rule of thumb I use called “Good Men Do Bad Things.” This is a simple rule that you can alter to fit the project.

With this outline, I’ll go through the script in detail and put scenes in order, as well as give details of the characters and situations. I start by giving a scene outline with the initial environment, the people, and the character motivations.

If you take a look at the scene outline below, you’ll see how this is done.

The plot, of course, comes next, followed by the action and the characters, and finally by the reactions.

To keep it all in perspective, I also put down the financial status of the characters. There’s a simple tab to show what’s going on in the characters’ heads.

You can see that the script has a fairly traditional structure, and this is good. A film like this doesn’t want an experimental or innovative structure.

It just wants a structure that looks good on the page.

Now I’ll create a scene outline, with a new tab showing the first scene. The screenplays below are one I worked on for the new police drama I’m writing, and then another for an early draft of a new science fiction movie that I want to make.

Of course, with a new project, you’ll want to revisit the outline as you write.

Not all screenplays follow a traditional structure, but it can help make sure you’re getting the most out of the screenplay writing process. As a writer, this structure helps you see your project in perspective and make more accurate decisions about the story and the characters.

It’s also good for the reader to see where your story is going and where it’s starting. With this structure, you’re helping them by showing where the story is going and how it gets there.

After you’re happy with the outline, you can go back through the script and add additional scenes and information based on the needs of the story. Some of the people you need to talk to or want to include are too small to be mentioned.

But you can provide more details about them if they’re more important to the story.

It’s also good to give a location description and an exact time of day.

And this is also a good time to put more information about the movie. For instance, there might be some exposition in the beginning of the story about the characters’ pasts, and this should be built in.

The reader needs to understand who these characters are and what they’ve gone through to get to where they are. And if they’re reading about a stranger in town, they’re more likely to give the film a chance if they know more about the setting.

How do you draft a screenplay?Crop anonymous female architect drawing with pencil on paper sheet

Once you’ve drafted the script, it’s a good idea to go back through it.

This is the time to add details that aren’t there. For instance, if a couple of characters aren’t originally in the script, then they’re something you need to add.

Some of the characters in your outline may not work at all, so it’s important to add some alternatives. And once you start working on the script, some scenes will have to be rewritten.

Sometimes, you may need to add scenes and to change the order of events so that they fit better with the new structure.

It’s also a good idea to read the screenplay out loud to yourself. I often do this when I’m editing to make sure I’ve put everything in place and that the story makes sense.

At some point, it’s good to read the screenplay aloud to another person, so that they can give you suggestions. This will save time later, because you won’t have to go back and edit your scripts by yourself.

When writing a screenplay, it’s really helpful to have someone there who can give you an unbiased opinion. Screenwriting is so subjective and challenging that sometimes it can be helpful to have someone who can help you see your work clearly.

How do you find help and support?

Obviously, you need to look for a good screenwriting class. But if you don’t have the time or money to pay for a formal course, I’d suggest checking out some online screenwriting resources.

Some of the best ones out there are Writer’s Digest and Mastering Screenwriting.

The easiest way to find screenwriting courses is to Google the words “screenwriting courses.” You may have to look around a bit, but there are usually several options.

If you don’t have time to sit through a class, consider searching for writing competitions. Screenwriting contests are a great way to find material for your script.


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