Posted by: steveonfilm | July 9, 2012

I Didn’t Realize I Didn’t Like That

Some people don’t like to outline. They just decide they know how it starts and how it ends and want to “let the story evolve organically.” How many times have you heard someone say something like that? It’s usually followed up a few months later when they stop writing because they couldn’t “get the story to work.” Well, no shit. You don’t build a house without blueprints.

Outlining is valuable in varying degrees. How much time you need to put into an outline depends on how you write. There’s no right or wrong answer. For me, I need to write really detailed outlines that end up becoming somewhat of a treatment. That’s just how I’ve evolved as a writer, and what I’ve found works for me. Other people might just need to jot down 25 beats and that’s enough for them.

But regardless of how lengthy or detailed your outlines are, the thing outlines offer most is the chance to find out problems with your story BEFORE you start actually writing your screenplay. I like to have all my “ins and outs” covered before I ever type FADE IN. Because it’s a lot easier to change things when it’s just some text file or note cards than when it’s a screenplay.

I’ve already discovered a plot hole in my current story that didn’t show itself when I was beating out the story with note cards. It’s a pretty big contradiction that simply wasn’t detectible until I started to beat out scenes and actions. And once I saw what it was, I realize that I didn’t like how it was going to impact the story, so I’m getting rid of it.

This is a pretty big change to the first act and some payoffs in act three, but it’s not anything that the story needs. It was a plot device, and a minor one at that, that offered a twist that is likely too much. I’m just glad I realized this now, instead of 65 pages into the script.

You’re not going to find every issue before you type FADE IN. Some things only pop up when you’re writing dialog. Or when you’re editing your second draft. Or after you’ve had an epiphany and need to change a major story element. THAT kind of stuff is what happens organically. But making those kind of changes are like deciding you want a double vanity instead of a single vanity in the bathroom. You’d never be faced with that choice had your blueprints not allowed you to construct the bathroom in the first place.

Keep writing
-Steve

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