Rain, rain, and more rain! Don’t complain: It’s good for the flowers and for all of us writers as it encourages us to stay in front of our computers.
This week, I worked with a student who’s working on her second draft of a screenplay and another who is revising a book. In the first case, she wanted to wait to revise until she’d created a new outline, and in the second, the existing outline was causing the problem because the writer couldn’t make the story he was writing stay within the confines of the outline he’d created.
One of the chief issues that plague us writers is the necessity of finding a structure for our stories. An outline, at its best, should be like the frame of a jigsaw puzzle. It gives you the basic shape, and that should, in turn, give you a sense of what order you will tell the story in. I have found that the best way to create is to think of the outline as a path leading you from the beginning to the climax of your story.
When creating an outline, there are at least two ways to go about it. I once read a book on architecture that showed how one housing project had been executed with the paths between the buildings laid out, and cement poured at the same time as the housing complex was built. The other housing project was completed with no pre-designed pathways, just a nice grassy lawn between the various buildings.
Over the next few weeks, it became clear how the residents actually walked between the buildings, and only then were the paths designed and the concrete poured. However, in the first complex, the builders were forced to remove the existing concrete paths and replace them because the residents walked from each building to the next differently than what the architects had imagined, and there were accidents.
If we use the story of the two pathways as a metaphor for outlining a story, the screenwriter and the novelist needed to reframe the purpose of an outline, which is to help the writer smoothly get from the beginning to the end without boring or confusing the reader. Here’s what I suggested that each of them do:
1. Set a fifteen-minute timer and write a synopsis of the story, including the end.
2. Outline the current draft, listing the page numbers of each scene and writing a sentence or two describing the action in that scene. I would suggest that you refer to How To Write a Screenplay In 10 Weeks, and use my template, The Mythic Journey Map ®, which allows you to gain an objective overview easily and will help you see what is working and what’s not.
3. Redo the outline, adding and subtracting scenes.
4. Save a copy and assemble a draft based on the new outline. If you need to add scenes, either write a quick draft or indicate where they will fit.
5. Put this away for at least 24 hours.
6. Read the draft from beginning to end, and you will quickly see what remains to be done.
You must gain objectivity about what you have written in order to perfect it, and this process will help.
If you haven’t started a new story, I recommend that you take a shot at writing it WITHOUT an outline. I know this radical view may get the outline police after me, but after twenty-five years of working with writers, I know that our creative minds often disregard time and space. To immediately force a story into these confines has killed many great, original ideas!
If you need to prepare before you write, use a fifteen-minute timer and write a brief paragraph of what you want to happen in the scene, which will help you understand the purpose of the scene in the overall story. Then, please write it as soon as possible and move on to the next. If you repeat this process and discipline yourself not to reread what you’ve written, getting to the end of a first draft can be a joy! Remember that all good writing is rewriting, and your first task is to write something so it can be rewritten!
See results in minutes as you explore and discover themes in your story that allow for better structure, character development, connections with your readers, and insights about yourself.
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Here’s to your sucessful writing,