Step Outline Screenplay
Formatting a Screenplay...
BASIC OUTLINE This is the simplest of the outlines, only covering acts and major turning points. This is where you begin to structure your screenplay. Most screenplays are written using a three act structure with a beginning, middle and end. The first act usually takes up about 25 minutes of the storytelling, with the last act being the shortest. That leaves ACT II as the longest and usually the most complicated. Here is the synopsis and basic outline for Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption.
The Shawshank Redemption Synopsis A young banker named Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to life in prison. Andy's indomitable will earns him a friendship with fellow inmate "Red", the man that can get anything. After bringing hope and resourcefulness to the entire prison he escapes under daring and almost impossible circumstances, recapturing the freedom he was denied for twenty-years.
Basic Outline The Setup ACT ONE Andy's convicted of murder and enters Shawshank
PLOT POINT ONE
Andy asks Red for the Rock Hammer
The Conflict ACT TWO First Half: Andy adapts to prison life and forms a relationship with Red, the man who can get anything Second Half: Andy tells Red about the Warden and finds out who killed his wife. Hope for freedom
PLOT POINT TWO Andy escapes from Shawshank
The Resolution ACT THREE
Andy and Red reunite in Mexico
WRITING A STEP OUTLINE
What is a step-outline? A step-outline is simply telling your story in steps. Each step is a one or two sentence statement that represents each scene in your screenplay. It differs from a basic outline because it is much more in-depth. It includes every scene in your story. It's written before you attempt to write any dialogue. I know, you've got a great idea for a movie and would much rather run to your keyboard and begin writing dialogue than work on your outline. If you can punch out a great script, go for it. If you've tried that before and at page 120 have no ending in sight, creating a step-outline may be your answer. Why do you need a step-outline? A step-outline is your road map, where you find the direction of your story. Searching for what works and what doesn't, technically your flushing out and gutting your story to prevent yourself from writing a screenplay that has no real direction. You may only use twenty percent of your first step-outline, and may write the same scene over fifteen times. Robert McKee, a true master of the art of storytelling quotes "A writer secure in his talents knows there's no limit to what he can create, and so he trashes everything less than his best on a quest for a gem quality story." A writer should never fear that he/she has run out of ideas, they should only fear if they settle for mediocrity. Once your step-outline is created the dialogue will pour onto the pages and into your characters mouths harmonically because you know exactly what they're doing and where they are going. How do you create a step-outline? First, you're going to need a couple of things: • • • • •
Patience 40-60 index cards or three blank sheets of paper Pen, Pencil, or Computer Plot Summary – SYNOPSIS (idea) for you movie Basic Outline THE ACTUAL PROCESS
There are usually forty to sixty scenes in a movie. Each index card will represent one scene in your movie. On one side of the index card tell yourself what the scene is about, and on the other side identify whether it's a major turning point like the inciting incident, first act climax, or resolution. Index cards are great because you can rearrange scenes in your story without having to rewrite everything. If you're using regular paper, that's OK, just be prepared for possible rewrites. Every writer has a unique way of working. Find what's best for you. Each step in your outline consists of a one or two sentence statement clearly describing what happens in the scene. Don't worry about fancy writing because the step-outline is strictly for your eyes only. Remember, this is your roadmap to telling a high quality story. I've
broken down a movie that you've probably seen so that you can follow how the outline could have been written. You can follow the step-outline and see how the story unfolds into a beginning, middle, and end. Premise: A young banker is wrongly convicted of a murder and sentenced to life in prison. After bringing hope and resourcefulness to the entire prison he escapes under daring and almost impossible circumstances to recapture the freedom he was denied for twenty-years. The Shawshank Redemption (A Possible Step-Outline) ACT ONE • • • • • •
• • • • •
Scene One: Andy (our hero) finds himself on trial for a murder he did not commit. Scene Two: Andy's convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Scene Three: At the prison we meet "Red", a man who's been institutionalized most of his life. The man who can get anything. Scene Four: Andy and the new set of prisoners arrive together at the Shawshank state prison under intimidating and unpleasant circumstances. Scene Five: The new inmates meet the warden who turns his back on any injustice and claims to live by the Bible. Scene Six: During Andy's first night in the prison the guards beat to death an inmate for crying to loudly. Andy keeps to himself. o Plot Point One Scene Seven: Weeks later, Andy talks to "Red", he trusts him. Andy asks him to get him a small rock hammer. ACT TWO - FIRST HALF Scene Eight: Andy is raped and beat by a group of men called "The Ladies". It won't be the last time. He adapts to prison life. Scene Nine: Andy gives tax advice to the head guard asking only in return a few beers for his coworkers. Andy is establishing his relationships with the guards and fellow inmates. Scene Ten: Late at night when lights are out Andy slowly begins picking away at the wall in his cell. Scene Eleven: Andy asks Red for a Rita Hayworth poster. Red assumes it's for entertainment. Scene Twelve: The ladies beat Andy to a pulp and he's in the infirmary for a month. Scene Thirteen: The guards beat the head Lady almost killing him, and a group of inmates collect rocks for Andy. They like him and trust him. Scene Fourteen: The warden hears of Andy's tax skill and puts the feelers out on him. The warden is up to something.
• • •
• • • • • • • • • • •
• • • •
Scene Fifteen: The warden sends Andy down to the library to work with old man Brooks. The warden wants Andy close to him. Andy continues to help the guards with their money and taxes. Scene Sixteen: Brooks finds out he's being released and goes crazy. He's spent his whole life in prison and doesn't think he can survive on the outside. Scene Seventeen: Brooks is released and hangs himself alone in his apartment. Scene Eighteen: After six years of writing letters Andy finally receives a little bit of money to start a library in the prison. Creating hope for the inmates. o Midpoint Scene Nineteen: The opportunity arises for Andy to hear some music and he plays it for the entire prison. The hole is worth the sound and memory of music for Andy. It gives him hope. ACT TWO - SECOND HALF Scene Twenty: Red tells Andy his stories of hope are pointless. Red once again is denied parole. Scene Twenty-one: Andy gives Red a gift of music, showing him that hope does exist if you allow it to. Scene Twenty-two: The warden talks to Andy about doing books for him. Andy receives enough money to build a real library and they name it after Brooks. Scene Twenty-three: The warden is running a money scam through the prison and Andy is his ticket to millions. Scene Twenty-four: A young prisoner named Tommy arrives at the prison. All the guys including Andy take a liking to him. Scene Twenty-five: Tommy tells Red and Andy the name of the prisoner who killed Andy's wife and lover. Scene Twenty-six: Andy tells the Warden who won't help Andy. Scene Twenty-seven: The warden has young Tommy killed so Andy can't get out of prison. Scene Twenty-eight: The warden puts Andy in the hole. The warden doesn't trust Andy getting out, he knows too much. Scene Twenty-nine: Andy talks to Red about going to Mexico. He hints to Red that he doesn't plan on staying in prison much longer. Scene Thirty: Red and the gang think Andy is going to kill himself. He's been acting strangely. o Plot Point Two Scene Thirty-one: During cell check Andy is missing. The warden is frantic. Andy will definitely go to the police about the corruption at Shawshank. Scene Thirty-two: Hidden behind a poster in Andy's cell is the hole he escaped out of. He spent twenty years digging it. Scene Thirty-three: Andy escapes and collects the warden's money. The police are on their way to Shawshank. Scene Thirty-four: The warden would rather die then go to prison. He kills himself before the cops can get to him.
• • • • •
Scene Thirty-five: Red gets out on parole. Scene Thirty-six: He is released from prison but not before he receives word from Andy. Scene Thirty-seven: Red hates the outside world. He misses the world he knows - prison. He remembers the promise he made to Andy. Scene Thirty-eight: Andy invites Red to Mexico, giving him money. Scene Thirty-nine: Red decided he can make it on the outside and travels to find Andy. ACT THREE Scene Forty: Red and Andy are reunited in Mexico.