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Learn & Become A Better Screenwriter

Scene Outline

Scene Outline

Now that we’ve decided on the broader strokes of our stories (the Story Outline Phase has completed), it’s time to get to the next level of detail  - scenes! Yes, awesome!  Scenes are tons of fun to write! Can’t wait to jump in…

Well hold your roll, tiger!  

Before we write script pages we first need to come up with the ideas for necessary scenes, make sure they’re relevant, and organize them. And the place to do this is in our Scene Outline. 

A Scene Outline is a list of all of the scenes that are needed (and will be shown) in any story or storyline. After all, we need to know what specifically happens in our screenplays – we need to know the plot. Jumping into the script without planning the scenes first can lead to an incoherent draft.

A scene is a collection of moments, all happening in the same location at the same time. Note that individual editing cuts (or shots) are not scenes. Don’t think of a scene as every time the camera angle changes – scenes are about every time we move to a different place or time within the story. 

In Open Screenplay, scene ideas are expressed in the form of individual Scene Summaries. A Scene Summary includes the scene heading (aka slugline) and a brief, broad description of what happens in the scene. Do not write dialogue or include specific beats – that is too much information for this phase of development.  Instead, describe more broadly and succinctly what is happening and who is participating. 

So it’s the scene idea, not the details.  These statements should be simple and to the point.  Some basic examples of scene ideas:

  • Bud and Joe try to rob a convenience store but botch it and run away.
  • Mary and Fiona find the killer’s disguise in Lisa’s locker.
  • Al plays video games in his living room and argues with a player online.
  • In front of their building, Karen breaks down and admits she doesn’t love Tim any longer.
  • Pete competes in the downhill race, and after some nail-biting near spills, beats Rob’s time by a tenth of a second.

Note that there are not moment-by-moment details in any of these descriptions. They are summations of the entire scene, not its parts. We consider the examples above to be simple and effective Scene Summaries. That being said, there are no strict rules. As can be seen in the Star Wars example below, Scene Summaries can include more details if you choose. 

It’s vital to make sure each scene has a purpose.  You should be able to cite a reason to include it in the screenplay, a justification for it’s being there. Statements like “it’s cool,” or “I just like it” don’t prove a scene’s value to a story. “It introduces an important character,” or “it’s needed for the Protagonist to find the next clue,” or “it takes the Protagonist’s relationship with the love interest to the next level” are all good potential purposes a scene could have. Basically, you should be able to defend the scene’s importance to the story and the need for it to be there. If you can’t then it’s best to leave it out. 

And speaking of leaving things out, while collaborating with others on the platform, if you feel that some of the contributions are not necessary or relevant to the story, Open Screenplay provides a “Vote Not to Include” voting option for each scene in the Scene Outline. Obviously there are infinite possibilities for choices of how any particular story can be told, so this function not only helps weed out extraneous scene ideas but also will help the community ensure the best, most appropriate, and most exciting scene choices.  For more information on how this works, please refer to the tutorial on How Voting Works

Try not to over think this step.  We’re shooting for a helpful, efficient list of everything that happens in our story.