To Outline Or Not To Outline?


This time of year can be very stressful for writers. If you’re like most, you’re probably waist deep into a few scripts. Or if you’re like me, you’re knee-deep in all the hair that you pulled out of your head over just one script. But I digress…

Whatever your malaise, here are a few tips to help you tackle your projects with purpose. Some writers swear by outlines, while others like to write until they’ve found their way. Personally, I’m of the former state group. I find that an outline makes the whole experience less tedious and traumatic. Not convinced? Well, here are five reasons to do an outline before sitting down to the blank page. 

  1. To Plot Out A Course

Every smart traveler knows that the best way to get to your destination is to create a map for yourself. No matter where you’re going or who’s going with you, it’s always important to know your final destination. And when you feel like you’re lost, a map or an outline can help you to stop, refocus and adjust, if need be, on your journey.

An intricate outline is not necessary. Simply writing down a starting point, mid point and an end point is all you need sometimes to get started. If you’re struggling with the basics, however, this is the time to sit down and figure it out. Don’t worry, it’s okay if you change it later, but starting out, a basic outline can be a lifesaver.

  1. To Clarify Your Plot/Identify Holes

After you done an overview of your beginning, middle and end, now start filling in your plot points. What’s in the beginning that’s going to lead you to the middle! If this is too overwhelming, try breaking it down into something smaller. Like, what’s leading you to the next scene?

This is extremely important because this is the step that will help you to determine and identify if you have holes in your plot. Also, think about if getting from point A to point B is tracking. For instance, is it a believable transition from one scene to the next? If you’re not sure, you may try filling in those holes with some very basic actions like, “Tom kisses Jane” or “Tom shoves Jane,” then “Tom leaves Jane”… you get the idea.

  1. To Flesh Out Characters

Now, this is the point in the journey where you can start adding in some “characters motivations.” Like if, “Tom leaves Jane, is Jane likely to stop Tom or is she likely to move on with her life and forget Tom?” Or, “Tom leaves Jane but is he regretful?”

This is also a great time to surprise the reader, as well. Be careful, however, to retain consistent “character traits” you’ve established for your characters. But feel free to push boundaries a little. You might want to also consider if the time is right for a third person to enter and upset the balance of power.

To Outline Or Not To Outline?

  1. To Keep Your Sanity

Often times, writers will tell you that sanity and writing are polar opposites in the natural world. I completely agree and have my monthly therapy receipts to prove it. But, I’ve also found that once you sit down and write out an outline, however basic or intricate, you start to make real progress towards your destination.

When writing, it’s inevitable that you’ll feel stuck, bored or – my favorite – you start to think it’s all just a “dumb” idea, you can hold on to your sanity and just go back to your outline. Because, you see, at least you’ve written something down and can now make adjustments or changes to something instead of starting with nothing.

  1. To Get To The End

Once you’ve jotted down a basic outline, you are often rewarded with a glimmer of light that leads to your destination of a completed script.

But not so fast! Before clicking on that screenwriting program, go back over your outline and then, and only then, if you think it’s still working, attack that script like it’s the last Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar in the pack!

So whether you are starting a new script or are currently in the middle of one, if you start to have trouble, an outline can make all the difference. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and buy a wig to cover all these ball spots. Happy writing!

*photos courtesy of