How to Write a Screenplay Outline

A screenplay outline is a scene-by-scene breakdown of a movie. It helps one to turn a logline and premise into a full-fledged story. Let’s first learn the key elements if you don’t know how to write a screenplay outline.

The key elements of a screenplay outline include:

  • Plot Points and Story Beats: It comprises inciting incidents, a climax, and a rising action. They play an essential role in making the screenplay attractive.
  • Scene Descriptions: These are broad strokes of action reports within one scene.
  • Character Arcs: They include emotional hooks for key figures in the script and focus mostly on the main character. You can use Squibler’s Describe tool to create convincing three-dimensional characters with unique goals, flaws, and issues they must face in their story arc.
  • Dialogue Snippets: Include critical lines of dialogue to employ when the real scriptwriting begins.
  • Act Breaks: Most half-hour television programs use the three-act structure. More than hour-long shows employ a five-act design, and these movies often fall within a three-act frame. 

When writing a screenplay, discipline, and organization of character arcs, plot points, and overall story structure are essential factors to consider. Whether you are a professional or amateur screenwriter, learning to delineate a script will surely provide you with an organizational tool for writing the story. 

You can use Squibler’s Templates if you are unsure where to start with the overall narrative. Some screenplay templates that you’ll find are:

  • General screenplay
  • Action screenplay
  • Adventure screenplay
  • Comedy screenplay

Furthermore, the brainstorming step is where you start organizing your project. To help you out, Squibler has customizable folders for writing effective scripts.

Finally, you can also include team members, minimizing friction with sending the script outline back and forth.

How to Write a Screenplay Outline

Numerous screenwriting software can give you a step-by-step outline tool to guide you throughout the story development process. 

Squibler has two modes: story and screenplay mode. If you’re writing a screenplay, switch to the Screenplay Mode by clicking the Mode at the top of your screen.

Yet, as you create your outline, there are essential factors to remember that will guide you to get the most out of the process. These critical steps include:

  • Begin With a Beat Sheet: The beat sheet is a condensed version of the overall screenplay. It is longer than a logline but just a few pages long. You can use a beat sheet to jot down broad strokes descriptions of your screenplay’s action and character development.
  • Move Forward to Index Cards: Index cards are a concrete way to develop various plotlines in your script. You can use colored index cards to represent multiple narratives you will be looking at in your script. 

For instance, you can assign your first story to one color, your second story to a different color, and other narrative threads you want to track in your story. Developing basic-level beats on the cards, which you can arrange sequentially. This strategy helps to understand the story as you create it.

  •  Start Writing a Document, Scene-by-Scene: Having your beat sheet and index cards as guides prepares you. Your most important goal should be to include every interesting scene in your script. Hence, it would help if you started each outline entry with scene headings like you will do in your actual screenplay. 
  • Explain actions and revelations: Below every scene heading, describe what happens and what characters and viewers can learn. Outline who takes what steps. Who can understand what information? And most importantly, how do the emotions change for the most relevant characters? 
  • Introduce a Dialogue as it Comes to You: Even though you aren’t drafting your screenplay yet, you will be forced to start thinking of lines of your discussion as you delineate the plot. When writing your first draft, include your dialogue in the outline and ensure it is clear and detailed.
  • Use your Outline as an Essential Tool: Most screenwriters write detailed outlines half the length of a finished script. Some write minimal outlines. They prefer to focus on dialogue and minute action when drafting a scene. However, don’t obsess over your page count. If you’re having trouble outlining your scenes, Squibler’s AI tools, such as Smart Writer, help you flesh out the scene.

To write a screenplay isn’t easy, and an outline is an essential tool for you. Either way, whether you prefer a 20-page or 50-page outline, always know that you’re doing this to make the writing process as smooth as possible.

The Importance of an Outline

Most professional screenwriters prefer creating an outline before writing a screenplay. As your screenwriting profession progresses, you can be asked to give your outline to producers or production company executives before writing a project. 

Most industry professionals will inform you that scriptwriting is done in the procedure. You need to ask yourself what an outline is and the practical means to create one. As we have learned, an outline is a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story of your screenplay; you need to know it can also be detailed or comprehensive. 

In short, the more complex one outline is, the better it will serve you when writing a screenplay. Script breakdown, action, and dialogue allow one to focus on making each scene outstanding and excellent. This approach makes the actual writing of your screenplay easier and more effective.

Have you ever commenced scripting a screenplay only to realize that you have written yourself into a corner or hit some pesky story that you have no idea how to resolve? When you have an outline, you can make as many changes as possible to your account without the pressure of rewriting the actual play. 

You are openly free to play with your ideas and get your actual plot points structured correctly without the stress of writing snappy dialogue. If something doesn’t work in your outline, it takes less time and energy to fix it at this point than if you had already written the whole screenplay.

Outlines vary in length depending on the needs of the producer, writer, or production company. If outlining for yourself, you can keep the outline briefer different from that of a studio; the outline should be longer.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.