A step outline is a step by step or "beat by beat" breakdown of your story into key events or sequences. Creating an outline before you write your script allows you to see an overview of your story and structure before focusing in on the detail and dialogue.
Why is a step-outline and story planning so important?
Many novice writers make the mistake of leaping head first into a full screenplay or novel without taking the crucial first step of outlining their story — otherwise known in the biz as "step-outlining".
By planning your story structure in advance you will save yourself a whole lot of time in the "rewriting" stage of your project because no matter how good you are at writing, all writers have to learn to love rewriting!
Script Studio offers a simple way for writers to plan and outline their story and for screenwriters includes step by step outline and analyses of 12 successful Hollywood movies from different genres to simultaneously compare to your own project's story pacing and structure.
Step Or Scene?
Script Studio uses "Steps" instead of "Scenes" which may confuse some screenwriters who are used to using scenes in relation to film timing and screenplay layout, but the difference is actually quite simple to understand.
A "Step" in Script Studio really means an "Event" in the progression of your story, and this means that each step can consist of more than one "Scene". A Montage Sequence is one good example or:
Joe leaves his apartment, gets in his car, drives to the bank.
Although in a screenplay this totals three scenes, in a step-outline it is only one step since the nature of creating a step-outline dictates that you focus on the main story event and do not get into too much detail. Unless something big happens to Joe while he is getting into his car, the scene can be described within the overall event. What then happens when Joe enters the bank is another step...and so on.
Another example could be a car chase. In a screenplay, each location that the cars involved in the chase pass through is technically a scene, but since we're dealing with the same story event, the entire chase and collection of scenes is referred to as a step.
Or suppose your screenplay has your Hero bravely dashing into a burning building to save a child while other fire-fighters frantically do their best to put out the blaze. Technically, each room your Hero searches in constitutes a scene, and every time we cut back to the other fire-fighters, they are separate scenes too, but when planning your story, it is much easier to think of this as one single event and as such, a single step.
Outlining vs. Rewriting
When you write a film script either straight onto a pad or punch it directly into your computer, the worst thing you can do is imagine that these words are chiselled in stone. That the scenes in the order you have created them are rigid and will remain where you put them for all eternity. You have to see the script as a reflection of your original idea that can now be moulded and shaped into the story it was always meant to be.
The problem is, when you don't plan out your screenplay first, this is much harder to do. It does take a little commitment, especially if you are eager to start writing dialogue and getting to know the characters populating your new world up close and personal, but if you try to curb your enthusiasm for just a few days and hammer out the central event driven plot beforehand you will most certainly save yourself a whole load of time and screenwriting headaches in the end.