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Three Minutes to Better Outlines

The outline is the roadmap for your film. The more detailed and sound it is, the better equipped you are to embark on the journey of writing your screenplay.

Structural Options

There's no shortage of strategies you can employ to organize the structure of your screenplay. Here are a few:

Whether or not you use one of these methods is up to you. It's worthwile to familiarize yourself with them, then choose a path that best fits the form of your story.

Each screenplay is unique, so your structure should be your own. Don't follow a formula, unless you want a formulaic result.

The key is that your screenplay should have some distinct structure. Break the story down into parts. Break those parts into even smaller parts. Break those smaller parts into tiny parts.

The more detailed your outline, the better prepared you are to write the screenplay itself. If you've outlined the story beats (see below) within a scene, writing that scene should be a fairly straightfoward and painless process.

Fountain and Structure

Fountain is a blessing for writers who rely on outlining and structure. The section and synopses elements can be used to mark the structural components of your screenplay. They are the building blocks that allow you to create the roadmap you'll follow when you write your script.

Robert McKee's Story Elements

Let's take a closer look at the structural elements defined in Robert McKee's Story and how they operate in a Fountain document.

From small to large, McKee's structural elements are:

  • Beat
  • Scene
  • Sequence
  • Act


The smallest element of structure, a beat is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by beat these changing behaviors make up a scene.


A scene is a story event that creates meaningful change in the life situations of your characters. You'll generally have about 40 to 60 scenes in your screenplay.


A sequence is a series of scenes — generally two to five — in which each scene builds toward a more meaningful and significant change than the previous one. The final scene in a sequence represents the most powerful change in that series.


An act is a series of sequences that peaks in a climactic scene which causes a major reversal in your story.

McKee Structure in Fountain

In Fountain, use the section elements to utilize the McKee story structure as follows:

# Act 1

## Sequence 1

### Scene 1

#### Beat 1

And so on...

Navigate your acts, sequences, scenes and beats in the sidebar.

Stay Flexible

Writing a screenplay is an organic process. You should expect to make changes to your outline as you write.

Drag & drop to reorder sections in the sidebar.

That pivotal scene that worked well in Sequence 2 may fit better in Sequence 1.

Or you might replace it with a new scene. You might remove it entirely.

The key is to expect change and stay flexible. Writing is a process of discovery. As you dive deeper into your characters and plot, the story will gradually reveal itself to you.

During this discovery process, the structure will likely be in flux. Don't be discouraged by the changes. Embrace the change — it helps you build a better roadmap for your screenplay.


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Shawn Will Lee

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Shawn Will Lee, Screenwriter & Filmmaker

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