Posted by: steveonfilm | February 9, 2011

Outlines… Part 3

[DISCLAIMER: This is just the method that works for me. I’ve put it together over the last few years as I’ve studied and experimented with various screenplay theories. I’ll likely continue to change it more as I move on with my screenwriting education. This isn’t the answer for everyone, it’s just a starting point.]

So far here’s what we’ve got…

Idea: A writer, a computer engineer, and a store owner all lost their son’s in Iraq. Each struggle with the different challenges preventing them from moving on with their lives. After they learn their sons were all killed in the same event, they bond and end up with a deep friendship. This friendship helps them each cope and finally come to terms with their son’s deaths in their own way.

Title: One Day At A Time

Logline: When drug addicted alcoholic Greg is forced into group therapy, he can either come to terms with his son’s death, or risk his life falling to pieces.

All three starting pieces we need are in play. The next step for me is to put together a really high level idea of what my overall story structure is going to be. To do this I use Syd Field’s Paradigm Worksheet with some custom additional custom beats that borrow from Syd, Blake Snyder, and others. Using a worksheet might seem silly. But as an exercise I haven’t found anything else that works better for me.

Using the worksheet, and my custom beats, I have to come up with the following:

Inciting Incident
Plot Point 1
Pinch 1
Mid Point
Pinch Two
Plot Point 2
Darkest Moment

I’m not going to go into detail on what each of these beats mean, but I will fill them out for you to show how I’d start to string together a narrative. Typically I’ll use one or two sentences to fill them out. At this point I want to keep things really high level.

Inciting Incident – Greg is arrested for possession of narcotics and forced to attend group therapy.

Plot Point 1 – Greg meets Salim and Robert at his first therapy session

Pinch 1 – Greg is arrested again for passing out drunk in public.

Mid Point – Greg and Salim find out that Robert has cancer and will die soon. Robert asks Greg to go to rehab.

Pinch Two – Greg attends rehab.

Plot Point 2 – Robert passes away. Greg and Salim are forced to reconcile their differences.

Darkest Moment – Greg finds Salim murdered at his store… and takes out his old drug stash.

You can see how these items are very basic, and serve as a few key events that I want to use to string together the story. None of this is set in stone. While outlining I might want to move things in a different direction. I might want to swap out or change something that I just put down. That’s fine. All this step is for is to provide some sort of high level structure to your story.

You should be thinking about the major elements that are going to play out on the screen. The major drama. The big arguments and conversations. The stuff that is REALLY important. The things that after you strip all the fluff, all the exposition, all the back story, is all that will be left. These are the things you’re figuring out at this step.

It’s important to get these things down now. They’re going to help you shape the world you want to tell. And when we get to the next step of starting to outline, you’ll see that we’re going to use what we just did as mile markers for our story. Think of them as fence posts. During outlining we’re going to connect the posts together, and move them around a bit.

Until next time, keep writing!


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