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Outlining » Hungry Screenwriter

Hungry Screenwriter

Breaking down the craft with other hungry writers.


My mother once told me a story about how when she was younger it used to frustrate her to no end that she’d find it incredibly hard to concentrate on her homework and studies while her brother John could have head phones on, the TV blaring and friends surrounding him while still managing to get his work done.    People’s brains just work differently.  I like to think the same thing applies to screenwriters.

Here’s what Christopher Nolan had to say about outlining:

“I don’t really outline.  I tend to start with page one and try to just write in a very linear fashion, particularly if the story is not linear.  When I did my first film, Following, I wrote it as a chronological story and then I edited it together to make all the non-linear divides. I found it very difficult, because I then had to do an enormous amount of rewriting to make it flow for the audience. So when I went to do Memento, I determined to tell the story backwards. I thought it was very important to sit down and just write for how the way the audience is going to see it. That way, there’s a better flow.”

While outlining isn’t necessarily an interest for Nolan it could work to your advantage if you find yourself relating to some of these symptoms-

-A great idea with uncertainty how to flesh it out
-Several solid, unfinished scripts cast aside to collect dust
-Good scenes mixed in w/ rushed garbage only meant to get you to the next point you’re prepared for.

Did you read any of those  symptoms and think “Holy crap, that’s me…”   Don’t panic because we’re here to help!  I was once just like you,  in fact let me offer you a visual to show you just how bad I had it-

Unfinished scripts.

And that example is me being nice to myself.  The sad truth is there are countless others.  All of these scripts were unfinished because I had no clue in hell where to go next with them.  I’d reach a certain scene and be unsure how to end it and just stop.  I thought eventually I’d get where I wanted to go with one of them but nope, it never happened.  The frustration  of something like this is enough to make you seriously question whether or not your passion is actually your calling in life.   But then at my current lowest in writing I saw a light and heard a voice…  The higher calling guiding me where to go…   The OUTLINE.   By heard I meant this …  By guide I meant this… By OUTLINE I meant this!

That last link, the example of an actual outline was typed up after John had completed the first draft of “Big Fish” but that is the system I personally use before starting mine.   The beauty of outlining is there is no specific format one has to follow.  No agent is going to require you to send your outline in with your script so there aren’t many ways you can do it wrong.  Here are the steps I take before even opening Final Draft-

  1. Come up with a log line
  2. Answer this question:  Why should this be sold and/or made
  3. Write out a list of characters this script will include with detailed background history and personality traits
  4. Begin an outline

Now before I breakdown my personal outline technique I want to quickly go over those first three steps.

  • Setting up a log line lays down the foundation of an outline.
  • Answering that question encourages my idea (And it has to be answered at some point anyway)
  • Breaking down my characters is an outline in itself and allows me to make sure I’m not duplicating personalities.  It also helps to realize which characters are expendable before you’re twenty pages in (That.  Sucks.)

Now, onto the outline!  Like the example I gave you earlier I follow this method-

Seq. #1 pages 1-5 SEQUENCE CAPTION
Bla bla bla bla bla…..

By the way, in case you’re unsure Seq. stands for sequence and sequence essentially means An order of succession; an arrangement.  Am I aware how many pages each sequence will actually consist of? Of course not but through estimations I not only know where to go from scene to scene but how long of a script I’m roughly looking at.  This method has done wonders for me.  After caving in and giving outlining a shot I no longer have trouble finishing scripts!  Okay, it’s starting to seem like I’m selling something.  I will say this, even though I have my outlining method down that that doesn’t necessarily mean yours will look anything like mine.  There are endless ways one can outline their scripts.  You could use note cards, do it old school high-school-self-made-study-guides style, a new outlining method you come up with yourself or whatever else works best for you! Be a writer (Creative).

About the Author

This article was made by HS founder, Aria.
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