Screenwriting Tips: The Outline (Part One)

AuthorHouse Author’s Digest welcomes you back! A few months ago, we jumped into screenwriting by discussing loglines. If you missed those posts, you can read them here: Part One | Part Two | Part Three


After you’ve boiled your story down to an attention-grabbing logline, it’s time to start on your script, right? You could, but for many writers the intermediate step of an outline can provide a road map for the rest of your screenwriting journey.


A film outline is the same as the outlines you wrote in high school for history and book reports. How you organize it is up to you–choose whichever format works best.


Most movies average around 50-60 scenes. Some successful screenwriters like to use a sheet of legal paper and number it from one to sixty, with a one-sentence description of what happens in each scene:


1. Family arrives at their new home


2. Wife carries boxes upstairs to bedroom


3. Wife hears a strange creaking sound in the attic




But for some writers, this method lacks structure. Some prefer to use a movie’s three acts as dividing points for their outline. Write “Act 1,” “Act 2,” and “Act 3” on your paper with space between each. Now start adding the pivotal moments, the “clothespins” that will hold up your entire story. How does Act 1 begin? How does Act 3 (and your story) end?


From there, decide how Act 1 ends, how Act 2 begins, and so on. Then you can focus in more detail on each act and scene. Before you know it, you’ll have your entire story mapped out!


Later this week, we’ll see these techniques in action using George Lucas’ Star Wars as an example. Until then, try to decide on your story’s beginning and end—the first and last points on your “map”–and as many other pivotal moments as you can.


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