Friday, March 08, 2013

Screenwriting Bullet #14: Step Outline

(This is a post from my old blog. My new site is here.)


A step outline (or scene-by-scene, or a beat sheet) is a document that describes what happens in each scene prior to writing the script. This is generally so that script editors and producers can see (and approve) what the story will look and feel like before the script has been written. They are most common (and often obligatory) in TV, and occur less frequently in film development.

There is no set format for a step outline, although it's fairly standard to number and list the scenes as follows (dialogue is sometimes added as a guide or flavour):

Danny writes a blog post about what a step outline is. He takes a sip of coffee, and wonders about what he might have for lunch. His phone rings. Outside, an alien ship lands. Danny doesn't notice as he answers the phone. It's his agent.

Danny's agent has some good news. He's been offered to reboot the Harry Potter franchise. She's sending over the contract immediately.

Danny plays it cool with the agent but when he hangs up, he whoops and dances for joy. Outside his window, a creepy alien gazes at him with sinister intent. Danny freezes in shock when he sees the alien. The alien smiles. Danny gulps. The alien brings up a gun, and vaporises Danny to a pile of dust.


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lkdfilm said...

This is very useful! Thanks Danny!

Anonymous said...

Just a hint about using dialogue in the beat sheet: don't put it in quotes. Even if you plan to use the exact words, "Danny, you lucky SOB, you're gonna reboot Harry Potter!" write it as: Danny's agent has big news: the lucky SOB is gonna reboot Harry Potter!

The reason is that the Powers That Be who read it will want to give line notes on dialogue. I don't know why, but there it is, they can't help themselves. Of course at the script stage, that's appropriate, but not here and now. So protect your sanity and omit the quotation marks.

Danny Stack said...

Good tip, thanks!

Melly-Sue said...

Came across this summary while working on a Step Outline assignment for my university course. Very useful indeed, thank you very much! :)