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Lesson: Outlining and Work Habits

Table of Contents

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.
  • 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 feature length script (100-120 pages), try for 80-120 beats. Break it into separate pieces (acts and sequences) and then find the main beats.

For a 28-30 page script, try for 30-40 beats of your story.

For a 3-5 page script, try for 6-15 beats.

It doesn’t need to be this many beats, but the more you add, the more focused your plan becomes.

💥 Forget what a beat is? Find it here: Beats vs. Beats

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.”

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, breaking the safe, and escaping. 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.

Identify the levels

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


The levels of the story of a TV or movie.

Here is a sample on the page:


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.

❗️The use of days isn't required in an outline but was something we employed to communicate the story.

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, and poetry…. It will save you years of frustration and pain.


This week, write out the beat outline of your final script. This script will be 3-5 pages and demonstrate what you’ve learned this semester.

❗️You are not submitting your script this week.

Submit your outline as a PDF.

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.

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.

Also, for clarification, your OUTLINE only needs to be about 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. 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?
  • Are all the elements of the story there? Does the story feel complete?

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 27 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).