Skip to content


  • Updated:

Home > Glossary > > Outline

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us at no cost to you. You can read our full affiliate disclosure in our privacy policy.

What is an Outline in Screenwriting?

An outline in screenwriting is a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of the story. It helps the writer plan the structure, beats, and pacing of the script, organizing scenes and ensuring story coherence.

An outline gives a full story view of their movie or play. The purpose of this guide is to show all that happens, scene by scene. This breakdown can be simple or very detailed, it depends on what the writer wants.

An outline is like a map showing where to go and how long the journey will take in each part. Outlines are great for setting up important points early on, making writing faster and clearer later.

YouTube player

Planning the structure and beats of the story

Planning the structure and beats of the story is an essential part of creating an outline in screenwriting. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Determine the overall structure: Decide on the main acts or sections of your story, such as the setup, confrontation, and resolution.
  • Outline the major plot points: Identify the key events and turning points that move the story forward and contribute to character development.
  • Establish the pacing: Consider how fast or slow each scene should be to create tension, suspense, or comedic timing.
  • Map out character arcs: Note how each character evolves throughout the story and ensure their actions align with their growth.
  • Arrange scenes in a logical order: Decide which scenes come before or after others to create a cohesive narrative flow.

Organizing scenes and pacing

  • Scenes are organized in an outline to ensure they flow logically and contribute to the overall story.
  • The story’s pacing is carefully considered in the outline, allowing for a balanced rhythm and progression.
  • A well-organized outline helps the writer see how scenes connect and build upon each other.
  • By mapping out the scenes, the writer can identify any gaps or discrepancies in the storyline.
  • Pacing is important in maintaining audience engagement and keeping the story moving forward smoothly.
  • The outline allows writers to determine where key plot points, character development, and emotional beats should occur throughout the script.

Benefits of Using an Outline

Using an outline provides a clear roadmap for writers, helps maintain story coherence, and saves time in the rewriting process.

YouTube player

Provides a clear roadmap for writing

An outline in screenwriting provides a clear roadmap for writing your screenplay. It helps you plan the structure and beats of the story so that you know what happens in each scene and how long they will last.

By outlining your script, you can maintain story coherence and save time during rewriting. It lets you craft your story’s important beats first and keep things concise.

With an outline, you can easily see the flow of your narrative and ensure that all necessary plot points and character developments are included. Overall, an outline is essential for screenwriters to stay organized and focused throughout their writing process.

Helps maintain story coherence

An outline in screenwriting helps maintain story coherence. It ensures that the plot and events flow logically and make sense to the audience. By outlining the story beforehand, writers can identify any inconsistencies or gaps in their narrative early on and make necessary adjustments.

This helps create a more cohesive and engaging screenplay that keeps viewers invested in the story from beginning to end. An outline acts as a roadmap, guiding writers through each scene and ensuring that all elements of the story are connected smoothly.

Without an outline, it can be easy for a screenplay to lose focus or become disjointed, making it harder for viewers to follow along with the storyline.

Saves time in the rewriting process

Using an outline in screenwriting can save a lot of time during the rewriting process. With a clear roadmap of the story and its structure, writers can identify any issues or inconsistencies early on and make necessary changes before diving into the script.

This helps to streamline the writing process and avoid wasting time on unnecessary rewrites. With an outline, writers can focus on refining their ideas and perfecting their storytelling without getting stuck in endless revisions later on.

Different Methods of Outlining

There are various techniques you can use to outline your screenplay, such as index cards and beat boards. Discover these effective methods that will help you plan and structure your story in a more organized way.

Read on to find out which method suits you best!

YouTube player

Index cards

Index cards are a useful method for outlining a screenplay. Each index card represents a scene in the story, allowing writers to move and rearrange scenes as needed easily. Writers can write a short description of each scene on the index card, along with any important information or beats.

Index cards make it easy to visualize the overall structure of the screenplay and ensure that all necessary scenes are included. This method is especially helpful for those who prefer a more hands-on approach to planning their story.

Beat Board

A beat board is a visual tool used in screenwriting to organize and plan the beats of a story. It consists of index cards or sticky notes that represent each scene or beat in the screenplay.

Writers can arrange these cards on a board or table to see the overall structure and flow of their story. The beat board helps writers visualize how different scenes connect and progress, allowing them to adjust pacing and ensure coherence in their script.

By having a physical representation of their story beats, writers can easily make changes and move scenes around until they find the best narrative structure for their screenplay.

Outline elements

An outline in screenwriting includes:

  • Scene-by-scene breakdown of the story
  • Detailed summary of what happens
  • Length of each scene
  • Important story beats and turning points
  • Emotional and narrative moments
  • Major plot points and character arcs
  • Actions or beats that occur in each scene
  • Overview of the story structure
  • Concise summary of the entire script

Story structure

The story structure is an important aspect of the outline in screenwriting. It helps to organize and define the narrative flow of the screenplay. Here are some key elements of story structure:

  • Act One: Introduces the main characters and sets up the central conflict or problem.
  • Inciting Incident: The event that kicks off the main storyline and propels the protagonist into action.
  • Act Two: Develops the conflict, introduces new obstacles, and builds tension.
  • Midpoint: A pivotal moment in the story where a major shift occurs, often changing the direction or stakes for the protagonist.
  • Act Three: Heightens the conflict and leads to the climax or resolution of the story.
  • Climax: The most intense and crucial point of the story where conflicts reach their peak.
  • Resolution: The final part of the story that ties up loose ends and provides closure.


In conclusion, an outline in screenwriting is a detailed plan that helps writers organize the structure and beats of their story. It provides a clear roadmap for writing, maintains story coherence, and saves time during the rewriting process.

By using different outlining methods like index cards or beat boards, screenwriters can effectively plan their script and bring their story to life on the big screen. So if you’re aspiring to be a screenwriter, don’t underestimate the power of a well-crafted outline!


What is an outline in screenwriting?

An outline in screenwriting is a writer’s plan or story map used to sequence scenes, create a format, and give examples of the script.

What is a scene-by-scene breakdown?

A scene-by-scene breakdown helps in making the script format clear by showing each sequence from start to finish along with its synopsis.

Why do writers need an outline while planning their screenplay?

The use of outlines gives writers the ability to carefully plan out how each scene and sequence will unfold before they start writing detailed scripts.