Successful screenwriters understand the power and necessity of creating an outline prior to writing “Fade In”. New writers may overlook this critical step in the screenwriting process believing the “story will take them where it’s meant to go” or the characters “will reveal themselves and their dilemmas” once they begin writing.
Can a writer create a successful screenplay without outlining first? Of course, it can be done. However, it benefits you, and more importantly your script, if you know the story’s final destination before writing page one. An outline will help you create a strong structure and keep you on-course while writing the first draft. That doesn’t mean that your outline is engraved in stone – ideas usually continue to develop well into the writing process, resulting in the addition of scenes, characters, and subplots that didn’t exist in the original outline.
Outlines vary in length from two pages to more than 50 (most average between 6 to 12 pages), and usually list each scene with a description. The outline may also take the form of a “beat sheet”. The outline is a mapping tool to guide you, so include as much or as little detail as you need to create the first draft.
Most screenwriting software programs offer outlining options – Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft among them – but for a basic outline, word processing software (such as Microsoft Word) works well.