Monday, December 01, 2008

Why I Always Outline

According to my Big Board, I am finished with the first draft of this screenplay. According to my page count, I am not...

You would think that after doing a stack of treatments for this sucker, writing the script would be a breeze... that’s what I thought, and I’m fairly sure that’s what the producer thought, too. But this thing has taken me much longer than usual. Here’s why:

That stack of treatments. Each one different than the one before - locations have changed and completely different antagonists and plot lines and scenes and structures completely different - some of them where chronological, some used a flashback structure, some used a little of each. Most of he treatments were about 40 pages. And before I wrote each one, I did an outline to incorporate the changes and new characters and new plotlines. I needed to make sure that the story flowed and that there weren’t to many of one kind of scene back to back and that supporting characters didn’t vanish for an extended length of time and that the pacing of the “juice” scenes worked. In one case, the notes had the story doing a complete 180, and I did an outline and turned in a 40 page treatment within a week. Eventually, after being broken in like a wild horse, I wrote a treatment that everyone seemed to like - one member of the team said he’d gladly put this version into production. Okay - we finally had a winner!

Everybody liked it and the decision was made to go to script.

But, at the last minute there were some additional notes. Some scenes were cut, others reordered, a new supporting character was added, one of the 2 main locations was completely changed - and that story thread had to change to reflect the new location, and some other things were changed.

Because I was now on the “script clock” and needed to get this thing written (with holidays and Expo and AFM and the Final Draft Big Break Awards and... all kinds of other things approaching). So instead of doing outline number whatever, I figured I could just plug in the changes to the script as I wrote it. You know, not waste any time.

Except, I ended up wasting a bunch of time. You see, all of these last minute changes may have seemed minor (actually, they didn’t) but when you cut a couple of scenes here, suddenly two similar scenes butted together and the new character was a third wheel in a bunch of scenes and the logic of scenes taking place at one location was completely lost in the new location and that whole part of the script needed to be rethought... and instead of working all of this out in an outline, I wrote and scrapped and rewrote and scrapped and rewrote and scrapped and... well, wasted a bunch of time. Would have saved time by working out the bugs in an outline.

So, now I’m through most of the rough patches and headed into act 3... but way behind schedule. I feel like I’ve blown it. Instead of speed and accuracy, I’m that writer who said the script would be finished on one date... and will actually be finished about two weeks later. Not very professional on my part.

Next time, I’ll do one more outline before I write FADE IN.

- Bill


mrswing said...

Hi Bill,


Maybe it's past time that the professionalism of the 'note givers' was taken into account. If everyone loved the outline, felt good with it, any changes could have waited until your first script draft.
You're doing a huge job under an impossible deadline with apparently very little consideration for your personal well-being. They should be grateful to get so much mileage from you.
Keep up the good work!

martinb said...

I have always dived straight into writing a script once I got the initial idea, figuring I could write my way out of any corner.

As a result, I have many half-finished scripts with terminal problems.

I now realise I will forever remain a dilettante unless I approach things in a professional way, and I'm following your Script Tips advice of writing down at least 25 incidents before starting, then working out the main story lines in an outline, before writing the first draft.

The outlining process is much more difficult than I expected.

Favourite scenes can't be linked together, great characters in one scene are useless appendages elsewhere, and the story keeps morphing into a different story (I followed your advice and put the tagline on every page of my notes to keep me focused).

But I realise there is no escape -- I have to get the spine right before starting on the fun part, which for me is writing the scenes.

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