What does a good outline look like? The answer to that question will depend on what type of writer you are as well as what you personally hope to gain from an outline. We will discuss the purpose of an outline, the different types, whether or not they are even necessary, and explain how to tailor a pre-writing plan to best suit your individual needs.

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What is an Outline 

Understanding story structure

One of the main functions of an outline, arguably its most important function, is to map out a film’s plot and ensure that it follows a strong structure. This means that having an understanding of story structure is pivotal to creating a good pre-writing plan. The video below offers a comprehensive masterclass on screenplay story structure.

Story structure masterclass

There are two important story structure basics that are important to have a grasp on before jumping into your own writing. These include the basic three-act structure and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

For further research, there are other story structure models and templates you can look into, such as Dan Harmon’s story circle. When you feel ready to jump into the process, be sure to read our outlining guide with our free template.

Outline Formatting

Different types of outlines

There are many different types of outlines and just as many ways to go about creating them. Your pre-writing plan can be written by hand in a notebook, laid out on index cards, or typed into a word processor. They can even written directly into specialized script-outlining software. 

You can take the form of a simple beat sheet or a detailed treatment. You can also dig into the nitty-gritty or can remain at a bird’s-eye view, showing a clear roadmap of your story.

For more information on beat sheets, the video below offers a brief introduction to their purpose and application.

Beat sheet introductory explanation

If a beat sheet sounds like the type of outlining document that you are after, be sure to read our guide to story beats. Or, if a treatment sounds more like your kind of thing, we have a guide to writing a great film treatment as well. It even includes a free template.

Outline Structure Example

Is an outline necessary?

Now that we have covered the what, why, and how of screenplay outlines, you might be asking yourself if all of this is really necessary for writing a great script. The answer is… it depends.

For some writers, outlining can be an invaluable tool. For others, however, an outline might just slow them down. Or it might make them feel as though their story is too set on rails and predictable.

Below is a two-part series that goes in-depth on the script-outlining process. These two videos analyze story structure and cover how to write a great overview. But they also explore some of the reasons why outlining may not be the best fit for every writer out there.

Video essay by The Art of Story

If you are unsure whether story outlining is a good fit for you, then give it a shot and adapt to best suit your needs.

Good Example of an Outline

What does a good outline look like?

The real answer to that question will vary greatly from person to person. A comprehensive, richly-detailed pre-writing plan might be great for one writer but could be stifling or limiting for another. 

The truth is: nobody is going to judge your outline. The finished script will be read and critiqued by others, but the pre-writing plan is solely for you, the writer, to plan and track your story before it is written and while you are in the thick of it. Whatever gets the job done is the best for you. 

Play around and experiment with different outlining types and techniques and find out what works best for your personal workflow.


How to write a script outline

Now that you possess the knowledge to decide whether or not outlining is for you, it might be time to jump in and start writing one. Our guide on writing a great outlining for film or TV may prove invaluable as you get started on your own. There’s a free template included too to get you going with confidence.

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  • Sam Kench is an internationally-awarded screenwriter, independent filmmaker, and film critic. Lover of foreign films; hater of American remakes.

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