Lesson: Outlining and One-Pages

Audio Version

Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, making it up as they 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 on the page.
  • Outlines allow you to define the large and small-scale layers of your story.
  • Helps define your character’s WOARO.
  • It allows you to consider themes, symbols, and imagery early on.
  • 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 an outline

Think of an outline as a roadmap through your script, built from story beats that move the story along.

When discussing beats, they are a unit of action, either in a scene or story, that represents an event, plot point, or step that moves your character towards their outcome. They can be as big or small as you need them to be.

‼️ These are different from the beats that indicate a pause in your script.

Make your 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."

It can help to break your beats into sections. You could build it out from any layer of the story and define as much as you want.

If you do add layers to your outline, it's helpful to define each section. For example, if the story is about a bank robbery, then maybe the big beats across the story are:

  1. rob the bank
  2. escape the police
  3. double-cross the other criminals

Another helpful tool is to use WOARO to shape the action. To use the example above, the goal is to get the money, so we know the story is complete when the main character either escapes with the money or they don't. Every beat and layer of the story is to either get them closer or further away from that goal.

When writing an outline, include the ending. Show a resolution. Don’t aim for mystery or drama—aim for clear communication.

How many beats should you have?

As the definition illustrates, the concept of story beats is very vague.

They are a unit of action, either in a scene or story, that represents an event, plot point, or step that moves your character towards their outcome.

The goal is always to add enough beats that you make it easier for yourself to write the script. The more there are, the more focused the plan becomes.

  • For a 3-5 page script, try for 6-15 beats.
  • For a 28-30 page script, try for 20-30 beats of your story.
  • For a feature-length script (100-120 pages), try for 80-120 beats.

I encourage you to break your stories into separate pieces (acts and sequences) and then find the main beats.

Do not overwrite your outline. Think about how long each of your story beats will take on the page.

I often see writers having too much story for the number of pages you are allowed.

Look at this sample outline below:


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

Inserting the days or parts (Part 1, Part 2, etc.) isn't required in an outline but was something we employed to communicate the story.


Another method of outlining is what I call one-paging and is how my writing partner and I build our stories now.

The general concept is to tell your story on one typed page. No more, no less.

Some rules:

  • Tell the full story. Include the ending.
  • Try to stretch it to the full length of the page. The more you write, the better details you'll have of the story.
  • Focus on how the story moves from one step to the next. You should be able to read this out loud at the end to someone and for them to understand the story.
  • Not everything may fit on a one-page, especially if you write larger scripts. The goal is to show the right beats so that the story is cohesive.

As mentioned above, the goal is to be able to read this to someone and for them to understand the story and see a resolution. Often this means that you'll be telling more than showing, but you might be able to include key lines of dialogue. In the end, it should read as a perfect one-page pitch of your story.

I've used one-pagers for every length from 5 page scripts to feature length films. Below is an example of a feature:

A one-page for a feature-length romantic comedy

The last things about structure and outlining

  • Every script has its own shape. You just need to define/find it.
  • When doing an outline, 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.
  • Similarly, one-pages are great to read to people. You'll know exactly how your story plays for others by reading it.
  • Outlines apply to all writing. Learn to find the structure in scripts, short stories, novels, plays, essays, non-fiction books, and poetry…. It will save you years of frustration and pain.


This week, write out an beat outline or a one-page of your final script.

Your script will be 3-5 pages and demonstrate what you’ve learned this semester. 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.

Submit your outline or one-page as a PDF. (You don't need to do an outline and a one-page.)

You are not submitting your script this week.

If you are doing an outline:
Find 2-4 main beats that define the overall shape of your story, and then 2-4 minor beats within them. Think back to the exercise in Week 5 when you built 3 separate beats across your story. In the end, you should have about 6-16 minor beats that tell your story.

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

If you are doing a one-page:
This is not a script. It is about you telling the story of what your script will be. It must feel complete and every step must make sense. Think cause and effect. Help your readers understand it. Most importantly, show us the resolution.

Also, for clarification, your outline or one-page only needs to be one page long but your final script is 3 to 5 pages.

Marking Criteria

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week’s assignment?
  • Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Make sure your sentences end with proper punctuation!
  • Is there a shape to the outline? Is it a bunch of dashes or are there separate sections and a shape to the outline?
  • If we have confusion or major questions, this may affect your mark. Have a clear sense of cause and effect.
  • Are all the elements of the story there? Does the story feel complete? Have an ending.

Regarding Feedback

  • Read your classmates’ outlines. 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?
  • Any confusion in the flow of action?
  • Keep an eye open for elements of the above marking criteria. If you notice issues, help your fellow writers.
  • Did it meet the assignment criteria?
  • Talk about any general comments, including grammar, mechanics, etc.

❗ Due Sunday, November 26 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).