First, you build a solid foundation…

And this is what could happen if it isn’t

As the daily churning-out of pages continues for my November writing project, I’ve found it extremely helpful that so much time was spent working on the outline.

Only through trial-and-error did I eventually discover that making sure the outline is rock-solid before starting on pages makes a huge difference.

Keep in mind that this is what works for me. You may have an entirely different approach, and that’s totally cool. Actually, I’m curious to hear about some of them. Feel free to discuss in the comments section.

And now, back to the subject at hand…

I see putting together the outline as a gradual building-up process. I start with establishing the main plot points. What are the pivotal moments in this story? Does each one properly fulfill its purpose in the overall context of the story?

Then I fill in the blanks between those plot points. Does it make sense how we get from, say, the inciting incident to the end of the first act? Does each scene do its job in moving the story and characters forward? Are you presenting information we need to know, or setting things up so as to adequately pay them off later? Does each scene appropriately follow the one before and lead into the one after it?

Something important to keep in mind during this part: eliminating unnecessary scenes. You may have a scene you really, really like, but may not be absolutely vital to the story. My recommendation is to either make it vital or get rid of it entirely. The last thing you want is to interrupt the flow of your story for a scene that really doesn’t have to be in there.

Once you’ve got all those blanks filled in, then you move on to expanding each scene – mostly just putting in the necessary elements that reinforce the purpose of the scene. Sometimes I’ll add in a snippet or two of dialogue.

Another very important detail about each scene: get to the point, then get out and into the next one. Once the scene fulfills its purpose, anything after that just slams on the brakes.

Hang in there. You’re almost done. The outline is pretty sturdy, but it could probably use a little more editing, fine-tuning and polishing. When you think it’s honest-and-truly ready, that’s when you make the big jump to pages.

This isn’t to say there won’t be more changes in store once you’re into pages mode, but by putting so much time and effort into your outline, you’ve eliminated a lot of the heavy lifting for when you get there.

5 thoughts on “First, you build a solid foundation…

  1. Thanks for this Paul!

    I keep reminding my students: if you’re’ a panster – just writing as it comes, letting it flow until you’re finished – by all means! This is when your’e writing for YOU, and having FUN. Now you’ve got the “spine” of your story, but does it have a PLOT?
    To build a solid plot line, YOU NEED TO HAVE SOLID STORY OUTLINE, complete with story beats. At the end of the day, a screenwriter actually ends up writing for the INDUSTRY and the AUDIENCE and not for themselves. Your screenplay needs to meet all the requirements/criteria to make the cut. Go, do that story outline. Just as Paul has told you to do!!!!

  2. You’ve really helped me. I am wrtiting my first outline in the first script out of three. I’ve been looking forward to creating this document. Placing all my hopes that this will make creating the screenplay a whole lot easier. I will use it in establishing the plot points then expanding them with slug lines and a brief summary of each scene. I hope This turns out.
    Pauline Hetrick

  3. Pauline, bravo to you! This is a BIG STEP FORWARD. You need help, let me know, because screen writing is a tough nut to crack, and many novice writers just totally “loose the plot” before they even gotten to page 5!

  4. Paul, Do you do your outline freehand or do you use software? I own Story Weaver & Writer’s Blocks which are simple 3 act breakdowns of plot & characters & Plot Control 2.0 which is a thorough step by step layout of character motivation, arc changes & obstacles in each act & a number of other aids.
    May West, nice to hear from you & Pauline should take you up on your offer to help. You have been a big help to me. Jim

    • Freehand via MS Word. I write out the actual plot point labels, fill them in accordingly (which takes time), and take it from there.

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