Film 210 - Outlining and Work Habits

Audio Version

Weekly Update

  • Sound is a little hot and popping on this week's videos. I apologize.
  • Watch the formatting on those title pages.
  • This week is broken into two parts. The assignment will be discussed at the end of the second one.
  • Don't forget to book those appointments.
  • Please include a tentative title for your script and your name on your outlines when you submit.
  • For clarification, your OUTLINE only needs to be around one page long and your FINAL ASSIGNMENT is 3 to 5 pages.
  • An updated example of the outline has been added after the video was recorded.

Audio Version

Outlining and Work Habits

Are you a Pantser or a Plotter:

Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, making it up as you go.

Plotters plan ahead and then follow that path to the end.

Neither is absolutely right or wrong, but learning to embrace both can make you stronger as a writer.

Why Outline?

  • Outlines are about creating the roadmap to find your way through your story.
  • It lets you know where you are going and what you’re writing when you show up at the page.
  • Outlines allow you to define the large and small scale layers of your story.
  • Helps define your character’s WOARO.
  • Never think about it as a constriction or a formula, but about finding your story’s form—finding its shape. It still allows for plenty of creativity.

Building the shape

For a 3-5 page script, find 6-10 beats of your story. Or break it into 4 parts and then find the 2-3 main beats in each of these parts.

Make the beats active and transitive. A character taking an action towards a want or encountering an obstacle:

  • “Jane searches the house. She finds the money.”
  • “Tom asks Bill to meet at the pier. Bill says, 'no.'”

If you break your story into sections, then define or name the overall focus or action of those sections. For example: “He robs the bank, double-crosses the gang, shootout with cops.”

An example of breaking your story into beats.

Applying WOARO to your outline

  • The progression towards “want” is the representation of the section.
  • For example: a gang steals money from a bank. The want is the money, obstacles are the guards, the action then is dealing with the obstacle, break the safe, and escape. Once they have the money, the story is done.
  • Unless there are multiple acts towards the goal: The gang steals money from a bank, but then one guy steals from his buddies, then he must keep the money and not get caught by the police.
  • You can apply WOARO to every level of the story in this way.

Identifying the levels

  • WOARO operates from the top level of story, all the way down to the small level of action and response (want and obstacle are inferred, and outcome is really a response).
  • Build your outline around these layers, however detailed you want them to be.
The levels of story from a series down to beats.

Example of Outline

Ordinary world:

  1. Life is good for Tony, phone call with Sheri.
  2. The family life of Tony. Mom, dad.
  3. Phone call from girlfriend, Sheri, before she goes running.

The attack on Sheri:

  1. Sheri running
  2. Sheri’s arrival in bathroom
  3. Killer’s arrival
  4. Killing Sheri

Next morning, Sheri is missing:

  1. Tony wake’s up. No texts or answer from Sheri.
  2. School day. No responses.
  3. Tony gets called to office.

Here is a sample of one on the page:

Notice the attempt to connect the pieces for the reader so that it can be followed from beginning to end, including character descriptions and ages.

Story Gardening

There was one more option to consider: story gardening. This is the process of working on multiple projects at the same time.

Think of each story as a seed that you plant in your garden. You don't focus on the single seed, but the garden as a whole. You tend to it, water and weeding and caring for it.

At the start, your story idea may not be whole, but you research and add ideas, fleshing it out. Eventually, it may grow into something, or you'll realize it isn't a strong idea, so you ignore it and move on. Perhaps it will become a part of something else.

Story gardening.

Last things about structure and outlining

  • Every script has its own shape. You just need to define/find it.
  • Think about the timing and page count of your scripts. (1 page=1 minute)
  • Use those divisions to your advantage as mini-stories.
  • Very important: Talk out your outline. Share it with a friend or family member. It’s important to say it out loud, repeatedly, and hear what works and what doesn’t.
  • This applies to all writing. Learn to find the structure in scripts, short stories, novels, plays, essays, non-fiction books, poetry…. It will save you years of frustration and pain.

Audio Version

Time Management and Work Habits

Although, we are near the end, you can still apply time management to your final assignment and your practice of writing after class is finished.

Consider this approach:

  • What work needs to be done? Story idea, outline, first draft, and rewrites (1-2 possibly)
  • What time do you have? If used effectively, you have almost 2 weeks (12 days to be exact).
  • Break down the work into a schedule. Set deadlines.
  • Then hit those deadlines.
Good writing doesn’t magically happen.

If you leave your script until the last day, you will have to write 3-5 pages in a day, with very little time for a rewrite, getting guidance, rebuilding your structure, or rebuilding your entire idea.

If you start next week (Weds.), you will have to write at least 1-2 pages for 5 days, with no rewrite.

But if you start today and write 1 page a day, you’d be able to finish the script by next Sunday and have time for a rewrite.

Daily Work Habits

  • Identify your best time to work. Morning, night, afternoon, before eating, after a workout, etc.
  • Identify your best place to work. At home, at school, in a coffee shop.
  • Schedule yourself to show up for half an hour or an hour every day. This is your time to do the work.
  • At the start, stop yourself when that time is up. Don’t go over. Hopefully, you will know what happens next.
  • Get a timer. Or research the Pomodoro technique and use it.
  • If you’re stuck, never think about the writing. Just write.
  • Force yourself to write. You need to write badly in order to get better
  • Over-thinking your writing and fear are likely your two most significant causes of not doing the work.
  • The best solution is always to make yourself write.

If you are bored with your idea…

  • Ask yourself what sort of story interests you.
  • Come up with an idea around this idea. If you have none, dig into the genre and find old ideas that interest you. Remember that David Bowie, T.S. Elliot , and Pablo Picasso all have said in different ways: Artist build on the ideas and work of other artists. Then build an outline based on one of those ideas.
  • But don’t waste time overthinking. Just write.


During this course, you’ve practiced being a writer. That doesn’t just mean knowing how to build a story and put sentences together. It means learning how to show up at the page and do the work.

If you want to continue writing after this class is done, it's good to be able to plan your year and know what you are capable of completing.

Like an outline, you can change that plan, but it helps guide you.

Final Thought

Work over time leads to skill.

Film 210 - Week 12 Exercise - Outline

This is it.

This week, write out the beat outline of your final script.

Break it into 3 or 4 overarching beats that focus on the want that takes you across the entire 5-7 pages to an outcome. Then within each of these overarching beats, have 2-4 small beats that move you across the big beats. There should be a total of 6-16 sub-beats (not including the over-arching beats) altogether.

Build a numerical list with Word, Pages, or some other writing program to show them (refer to the sample list in the notes. And please include a tentative title for your script and your name on your outlines when you submit.

Also, when I say that I want you to show me what you learned over the semester, you don’t have to force everything into the script. I DON’T NEED TO SEE a montage and a phone conversation, but I do want proper formatting, spelling, and grammar, in a tight, well-told story.

For clarification, your OUTLINE only needs to be around one page long and your FINAL ASSIGNMENT is 3 to 5 pages.

Marking Criteria:

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week’s assignment?
  • Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Is there a shape to the outline. Is it a bunch of dashes or are there separate sections and a shape to the outline
  • Are all the elements of the story there? Does the story feel complete?

Regarding Feedback:

  • Read your classmate’s outline. Do you see a natural progression of the story? Do you see problem areas? Areas that seem like they may have too much happening in them or only contain a single moment?
  • Is there a clear indication of WOARO. Want? Outcome? Do the story beats indicate the action and response across the story?
  • Keep an eye open for elements of the above marking criteria. If you notice issues, help your fellow writers.

Consider this format for feedback:

  • Did it meet the assignment criteria?
  • Any confusion in the flow of action? Be critical here—don’t give free passes.
  • Talk about any general comments, including grammar, mechanics, etc. here.

Due: Sunday, November 29, 2020 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).

Return to Film 210 Main Page