4 Ways to Use WorkFlowy to Outline a Screenplay


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by Naomi Write + Co. in pre-writing, screenwriting, Uncategorized

By popular request, this week’s post is a little tutorial for using Workflowy as an outlining tool.

What is WorkFlowy?

Very simply, WorkFlowy is a web-based outlining tool.

It’s something I might use at several different points in the story development and outlining process. Usually whenever my brain needs a change – like if I’ve been using notecards and I need to start getting digital, or if I’ve been writing by hand and I need to start organizing my ideas into some kind of shape.

Why use WorkFlowy?

Like any other app or software, it’s just one more tool in your toolbox. You don’t have to use it to get your stuff done. But I like it and it might help you too, so I thought I’d share (and then you can try it out for yourself.)

WorkFlowy is so useful because it’s incredibly simple but flexible. It’s made up of nested lists. That’s cool because you can keep a lot of information all together, but you can collapse the nested lists so you don’t have to see everything at once if you don’t want to. (Great if you get overwhelmed by the scope of a project.)

It’s as simple to use as Word, but – and this is probably my favorite thing about it – the list items are all drag-and-droppable. So, if you like using notecards because you can move them around easily, WorkFlowy gives you a similar experience.

(There’s also a “board” function, but I haven’t figured out if that feature is useful yet. If you do, let me know!)

How and when to use WorkFlowy

All the describing I can do here won’t give you a complete view of whether WorkFlowy makes sense for you. Really, I think the best thing to do is to get in there and play around with it. See how it works, explore where in your process it might be useful.

But here are a few suggestions to inspire you, or at least give you a place to start trying it out:

1. Brain dump to rough chronology

When you’re just starting out with a new screenplay idea, a brain dump can help you get everything out of your head so you can see what you know, where the gaps are, and help you get in touch with what you love about your project.

I find that brainstorming right into WorkFlowy is pretty handy. You’re just making a list of anything and everything related to your project as it pops into your head.

Then, when brainstorming time is over, a next step could be to start organizing what you have into a rough chronological order. Doing it that way, you can get a pretty good head start on a full outline.

As you’re organizing your way toward an outline, you can break the big list into more manageable sections like Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, Act 3. Or, if that feels too daunting, you could try organizing what you have by thinking about:

  • What goes in the setup? (who, what, where, why, how)
  • What goes in the escalation? (obstacles and conflict)
  • What goes in the resolution? (a final push, a last battle, solving the problem once and for all)

Anything that doesn’t fit or you don’t know where it goes yet, just keep it apart for now. You could even make a bullet point called “save for later” and nest all the random items underneath. Again, keeping them safe but out of sight.

A few readers asked for videos, so here’s a quick one that will give you a peek at how you can move list items around. You’ll also see a moment where I accidentally nest one point under another and then drag it out again. Easy peasy. (In this video I’m rearranging a big brain dump list for a Bridesmaids example.)


2. Save the Cat beat sheet brainstorm

If you’re a fan of Save the Cat and their 15-beat beat sheet, another way to use WorkFlowy is as a space to brainstorm those beats.

You can even make a beat sheet template, since WorkFlowy allows you to duplicate any list. That way you only have to type the 15 beat titles once, duplicate, and have a fresh workspace for brainstorming each new project.

Here’s a quick example video showing what that might look like:


When you’re done brainstorming, you could use WorkFlowy to rearrange what you’ve come up with into a rough chronology. Or, you could take your brainstorm items and move to physical notecards for your 40-beat board (if you’re ready to change things up and get tactile).

3. Going from Major Plot Points to Springboards & Sequences

Another place in the development process that WorkFlowy can help is if you have the 40,000-foot view of your story structure worked out and you’re ready to zoom in and start figuring out the springboards and sequences.

You’d want to start from something like your major plot points. (And remember that you don’t have to figure those out chronologically! It’s usually easier to come up with the beginning and ending of a story and then figure out the middle.)

Once you have those tentpoles that create the big-picture shape of the story, you can then zoom in, get more granular, as you break the story down into more detail.

The way I’d use WorkFlowy to do this is: create a list of sequences 1 through 8, and then nest the appropriate springboard under each one. Where a major plot point lands on a springboard, I’d fill that in (since in this scenario we’re starting with those, so they’re already figured out.)

Then you could work on figuring out the other springboards, and then label each sequence with a quick summary of what happens to lead up to the springboard, or do both at the same time. You’re just filling in the blanks, which (to me) makes outlning feel easier.

4. Springboards & Sequences to beats

And one more suggestion for using Workflowy: when you have a list of springboards & sequences (or other rough sequence-level outline) and you’re ready to break it down into component beats.

This is a good half-step toward a full outline because at this point you’re just thinking about what needs to happen, and putting off coming up with the how (the exciting, funny, scary, or dramatic way it manifests onscreen) until later.

But the great thing about working in WorkFlowy is that if you do happen to come up with cool ideas for how something plays out (scene ideas, moments between characters, set pieces, lines of dialogue, etc.) you can add a nested item right in the list but then collapse it to hide for now. So you don’t break your flow because you’re never leaving the document, but you get to capture all those little ideas and come back to them later.

Here’s a quick video example that shows a little more of how the nesting lists work. In this video I’m going from a springboards & sequences breakdown of A Quiet Place, and turning one sequences into its component beats. Even noting an idea for how one of the beats might play out, location-wise, and then you can see how I collapse that note under it’s beat so it’s safely tucked away.

Do you need WorkFlowy to outline?

I know, I get a little overly enthusiastic about WorkFlowy. It’s a tool I’ve been using for years. I even use it for keeping track of any kind of non-screenwriting project or list, because it’s just that flexible.

Even so, it may or may not fit into your own writing process — and that’s okay! I’m constantly telling writers to do whatever makes writing easier and more fun. That’s the best thing you can do in order to actually get more writing done.

So if WorkFlowy does that for you, then great. Try it out on your next project, or on one step of your current project. See if it fits into your process. And always do what works best for you.

If you’re not already using WorkFlowy, here’s a link to sign up.

Write with the wind at your back!


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.