I Love it When an Outline Comes Together

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Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

So in this, the winter season of my eighth year of writing screenplays, I will relate the heroic story of one Scott Myers and how he made my life as a writer easier.

…OK, that’s about as much of that kind of talk as I can take. Go read A Christmas Carol if you need to feel in the holiday spirit. (Me, I prefer the holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime. Even when I have my period, I am not as girlie as when I plop down in front of the TV with a tub of Häagen-Daz ice cream to watch anything with Mistletoe in the title.) But I digress.

Anyway, the hardest part of making the change from writing prose to writing screenplays was the need for structure. When I wrote prose all I needed was a couple of characters in my head who had a relationship in a world of my making. That was it. I’d listen to them tell me their adventures and their problems. Subtext was easy. They’d tell me what they were thinking and I’d write it down. In the language of screenwriting, the characters still talk to me about what’s in their head but I have to show what they’re thinking by describing their actions while still moving the narrative forward.

I tried a lot of different methods, note cards, colored pens, numbered blank pages, filling out forms, to hammer out that structure.  Every class I took and every book I read taught me something. Even if that something was how others go through the process and what wouldn’t work for me. I did have a couple of large revelations that changed my process and set me on a path closer to constructing a fluid narrative. The reversal at the midpoint stuck with me after my studies of Robert McKee’s Story. All Is Lost was my big take away from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Unfortunately, those were only parts.  Nothing allowed me to truly see what kind of movie I would end up with until I took Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class Prep: From Concept to Outline class.

He doesn’t care what the form of your outline takes but gives you mile markers to guide your story and thoughts. The ten page outline I came up with reads almost like a short story. Scenes and series of scenes cascade down the page with snippets of dialogue and outbursts of subtext. All that lets me see the movie, feel the pace, and read the tone.  I know the trouble spots and can change them without the pain of slashing perfectly good pages that just don’t fit right in this movie.

As most of you know, there are days my disability keeps me from having a say on how many hours I’m able to sit up and write. The best thing about having this kind of outline is that even on days exhaustion and pain cripple me I am able to tap out a page of the script. Never having to wonder where I am in a story or what I should write next allows what little energy I have to be devoted to the actual writing of the script.

Every week I do Follow Friday on twitter I make @GoIntoTheStory my first follow. This is because Scott Myers has made the biggest impact on my screenwriting career so far. His observations and resources along with his teaching ability have made it possible for me to go on in the hard times. Maybe outlining your script isn’t were your problem lies. Maybe it’s exposition or dialogue. He has classes for that too.

Tis the season to be grateful. I am grateful for Scott Myers.

2 responses »

  1. Wow, Billie Jean, that is such a wonderful post. I feel truly honored by your kind words and thankful you took to the Prep process so well. Here’s a blast of creative juju for this and all your stories! Whoosh!

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