Posted by: steveonfilm | September 28, 2011

Putting In Fence Posts Like The Pros

While listening to John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptcast podcast the other day (see previous post for links), John mentioned something that he sometimes does when he writes projects. Evidently, on some occasions, he’ll write the first ten pages, middle ten pages, and final ten pages, before writing the rest of the script. I thought this was pretty interesting.

We’ve all worked on projects where we started out all giddy and excited. It was something new. Something we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into. Then, after we’ve been writing for a while, and we’re wrapping up the final act, we just want to get it done. So the last 10-15 pages might not be as solid as we wanted. We just do what we need to do to get them out. And in turn, may spend a lot of time rewriting them when we’re done. Or worse, we never finish them at all the first time through.

John said he’s as guilty as anyone at not putting in the effort he should when trying to finish up those last few pages. So when he’s done outlining, and is satisfied with all the prep work he’s done, he takes advantage of his excitement and writes the first ten pages, middle ten pages, and final ten pages. This way, in his mind, he’s working at some of the most pivotal moments of the script when he’s at his most excited.

This doesn’t mean that John’s beholden to anything he’s written. It by no means pigeonholes him into writing into the scenes he’s set up. It’s just merely a marker, or a fence post, that he may use, or he might change. Just like someone might change the story and deviate from their outline because it just “feels right,” John will deviate and change what he’s already written. But since he put down the fence posts, he’s got a general target to work towards, and it helps him along.

As I’ve said before, the only correct writing method is whatever it takes you to get the job done. The same goes here. This is what works for John, and helps him out. It might not work for you. But if you’ve run into problems where your writing fizzes out the last 30 pages or so because you lose that excitement, try this out. It certainly can’t hurt, and you may end up liking it.

Until next time, keep writing!



  1. Interesting method. I had an acting teacher/director who uses the same method when rehearsing a play. He has the actors find 5 moments in the play, one from each (structural) act, and has them define who they are, what they want, etc. at those moments. He referred to these as ‘buoys’ one can ‘swim to.’ There are times in rehearsal where you can lose grasp of your character, or you just can’t figure him/her out for some movement or section of beats, but if you have these buoys, you can swim to them and it gives you direction and guidance.

    Thanks for the heads up on the podcast, Steve! I like this approach actually. I’m usually pretty solid on the point of attach, midpoint, crisis and climax after I outline anyway. It’s all the other stuff (act two stuff) that gives me fits. I may try this on my next script and have those fenceposts in place as I write.

    • Yeah, I thought it was pretty interesting to hear John describe it. I can definitely see where taking advantage of that energy at the start of a project can beneficial.

      Neat exercise for acting. I have done much acting myself, other than lying during job interviews, but I think I’d enjoy classes if I were to ever take them.

      Yeah, the podcast is fun. It’s just interesting to hear the guys talk screenwriting. And since the idea is to help people become screenwriters, there’s not a lot of business talk… they’re legit trying to teach people about screenwriting in a way that’s easy to understand.

      I’ve never found act two that hard to do… but I think I’m an exception. I’m not saying my act two’s are great, but since I spend so much time outlining, there aren’t a lot of times where I’m done writing and go, “Man, this act two really drags.” I can usually see that stuff when I outline. I’ve found putting in pinches in the middle of the first and second half of act two (as suggested by Syd Field) helps me. Gives me another fence post to connect things to.

      Of course, at the rate you’ve been writing, I hope you’ll start giving me tips soon! 😉

  2. I’ve done that here and there. For me, it works out really, really well, because I feel like I know what the high points are, I just have to maintain the action and excitement between them. I usually write a couple of setpiece scenes or climax scenes, if for no other reason than they’re often the easiest ones to get on paper.

    I guess I find it really, really hard to stay on track chronologically. I’ve never written anything in page order, now that I think about it.

    I’ve had it backfire a little bit, however. One script, I had the last ten pages already written. It was a crappy last ten pages, so everything that I was writing was headed the wrong way, so to speak.

    • Yeah, you don’t want to write yourself into a corner.

      But you can always make a “crappy ten pages” better in the second draft.

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