In writing in general, there are discovery writers and outliners, planners vs. pantsers.

I am very curious to know how screenwriters create screenplays.

Do writers start with a basic plot and then add the scenes and arrange them, expanding on the plan? Or do they have a very very tiny basic plot and write the scenes in a more freestyle way?

Is planning/discovery significantly different when the goal is a screenplay instead of a short story or novel?

One reason I wonder about this is that a screenplay is meant as a collaborative tool, while a novel/short-story is the finished product.

Is more planning needed if more people will be involved, and because the goal is a fixed amount of pages/minutes? Or can you "pants" it, and then use the editing/collaboration time to bring things into focus?

  • 2
    This question seems overly broad. I'll think you could profit from reading one or a few of the many introductory books on screenplay writing on the market today.
    – user5645
    Dec 22, 2016 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


Whether to outline a story thoroughly or not at all is a question that's been asked for a long time. But some general information may help.

If you're writing on your own, you can write however you like. There's no reason you can't just start typing a screenplay and, when you're done, edit what you've written into shape.

There are a couple of advantages to outlining. You'll get a more cohesive script in the end and you'll work more efficiently. While some writers are able to outline every detail and only then write, others find this to be a bit of a straitjacket. There is no single method that applies to all writers, and you'll have to find the answer that best suits you by trial and error.

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    I also recommend you read about the three-act structure. Although it has its detractors, it's a common way of structuring stories for the screen. Dec 21, 2016 at 21:50

It does not matter what you write, or in what format or genre--you tend to be either more of a plotter or more of a discovery writer. It is never only one or another, but rather a combination of both. The percentage, however, is different for each and every one of us.


Professional screen writers will often have a generic plot they use because they know they can write the required script on time, to fit the page count required, in the genre of the show they are doing.

This is even more true for a weekly series where they have to be ground out repeatedly.

To supplement that approach they often have teams of writers who will sit down together and brainstorm ideas that could fit the generic plot. That helps do it faster as well as improving the quality of the story.

Now if you are writing a spec script then you can certainly do it any way you want.

And if you choose to wing it with pantsing then you should expect to do a lot more rework with deleting and replacing, finally rewriting, and then more editing, while spending a lot more time to finish.

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