Some writers hate it, others love it, but either way, you need it. In this article, we will be discussing the very debated outlining process for your screenplay. Whether you have skipped this important step or are looking for ways to make your outlining process tighter, this article is for you! We’ll cover why having an outline is important, formatting options, and ensuring your outline is in the best shape to lead you to the scriptwriting phase. Let’s dive right in!
DON’T SKIP THIS STEP
I’m sure you’ve seen on Twitter and any other social media platforms where idle writers like to gather, the many debates about whether outlining is an important part of the screenwriting process. Here at The Professional Pen, we teach outlining as an essential step that should not be skipped. A well-structured outline can save you time and the headache of figuring out story beats and scenes once you finally sit down to write your screenplay. Not to mention it can aid in fighting that most dreaded writer’s block. Outlining not only defeats writer’s block but can also actually make the scriptwriting process fun through proper preparation. If you’ve been avoiding writing your outline before jumping into the scripting phase, then TPP is here to quell your fears and give you the tools to go from idea to outline to the first draft.
There are many different ways to outline your screenplay, and ultimately you will settle on a process that feels right to you. Before you begin outlining your screenplay, you will first want to make sure your characters are 3-dimensional and the goals are clear. All screenplays, whether, whether they are features or TV pilots, are about a character trying to reach a goal. Want to help solidify your character’s goal? Then be sure to check out our #WhoAmI Character Workbook and and our #Goals Workbook for Features, Specs, and Pilots. TPP’s workbooks help you to dive deeper into who your characters are, what problems they are trying to solve, and why that problem must be solved (better known as stakes). Without having 3-dimensional characters and clear goals, the outlining process can be pretty futile. Make sure these aspects are fleshed out so that you have direction when you are outlining your screenplay.
WRITE IT DOWN AND MAKE IT CLEAR
There are many different ways to format an outline for your screenplay, and ultimately you will settle on a process that feels right to you. Let’s examine a snapshot from TPP’s Sample Outline Template below.
The above example is one of the clearest examples of how to outline your screenplay. It also lends itself to the scriptwriting process by already having the scene heading for each scene. Under the scene heading, you will want to describe the scene’s action. This can be short and to the point or more detailed, but what you want to be sure to include is the goal of the scene. How does this scene move the story forward? Characters should be included and their emotional throughline should be tracked. Each scene should be sequential and build upon one another. You can also track different storylines by changing the color of the scene heading. Ultimately, you can make the outlining process your own, but the clearer your outline is, the easier it will be to begin the scriptwriting process. Now, let’s look at this sample outline example in play by examining the DC pilot outline by John August.
Notice how August describes the dialogue but does not get bogged down in specifics. Also, pay attention to how the scenes build upon each other and how we are able to track Mason’s emotional throughline. Although his descriptions are brief, we are able to see the build-up of anticipation that Mason has to see the Senator. As each scene builds upon itself, we see a nervous Mason finally catch relief when he is successful in his tasks and catches the eye of the Senator.
HELP ALONG THE WAY
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide of the entire outlining process, then be sure to check out our HTF Do I Write an Outline Workbook for Features, Pilots, and Specs so that you can get specific and detailed about the beats of your screenplay. This workbook also covers character development and goal setting and is a great first step to the outlining process. Ready to dive a little deeper? Check out our go-at-your-own pace Screenplay Structure course where we take you from idea to story.
Already have your outline completed and think you are ready to write your screenplay? Have a Story Expert give feedback through our Outline Review service to ensure your story beats are clear and concise and you are ready for the scriptwriting process.
Written by TPP Story Expert Khadija Roane