Outlines. Yes! No! Maybe?

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Every writer has their own way of doing things, and each way is probably different – maybe a little or a lot – from somebody else’s. If it works for you, then by all means, have at it.

Just because your way isn’t how I’d do it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong; it just means we each have our individual approaches. I’m content with how I get a script written, and you can do yours however you want.

Some recent conversations with other writers, along with reading some interviews with professionals, really reinforced this mindset for me. Especially when it came to outlining your story.

Count me in the camp of those that prefer doing it, while others opt not to.

I’ve written before about how I put a story together, and I find it extremely helpful to make sure the outline is rock-solid (to me) before starting on pages. And as is often the case, there’s a strong possibility some elements of the story will change while those pages are being written. But for the most part, a good portion of my outline remains more or less intact.

Again, this is what works FOR ME.

Not really knowing how those who don’t like outlines operate, I admit to being curious/intrigued/impressed with how they do it.

Do they at least have some kind of basic structure in place? Do they just sit down and start writing? Do they know where things are going? Is it all about feeling spontaneous and just jumping right into it?

All I’m asking is – How do they do it?

One pro said something along the lines of “outlining removes the element of surprise”. Honestly, I’m not really sure what to make of that. I’m fairly certain they don’t mean “didn’t see that coming” – or do they?

Others have commented that “outlining a script takes away from its organic nature”. (Again – paraphrasing.) Not sure how that would work either. If the story’s put together in the most effective way the writer can make it, with a solid structure that flows along nice and smoothly, and with three-dimensional characters, wouldn’t that fall under “organic”?

Like I said at the beginning, if you don’t like to outline your story, don’t outline your story. If that’s how you do it, great. All I’m saying is it’s not something I could do, nor would I expect either of us to suddenly change our methods.

Would I ever give it a try? Probably not. I’d be more concerned the end result would be a big mess. I enjoy taking the time to put things where I think they should be, from both the storytelling and screenwriting aspects.

How about you? Pro- or anti-outline? Or somewhere in the middle?

4 thoughts on “Outlines. Yes! No! Maybe?

  1. Definitely pro. I’ve worked both ways, but outlining definitely works best for me. Without an outline, it seems like it takes twice as many rewrites to make the final product feel polished.

  2. Outlining a story before putting the script together is something more of a style than structure. As Paul sets it, if it works for you fine, if not, just drop it.

  3. Good discussion! I choose outlining. Outlining is a process of discovery. Once completed, it gives you a roadmap of sorts and does the heavy lifting which prepares you for the next level of creativity – dialog, subtext, embellishment, and yes, much more creative discovery once you get to the “real” writing. Outlines aren’t cast in stone; if you decide to change the roadmap it’s much easier to do with an that you can actually see and easily change.

  4. I’m also in the pro outline camp. I know some writers really enjoy this part of the process. Not me. For me, this is the heavy lifting–the part where all of the major problems are resolved and it gives me the roadmap for the trip I’m about to take. I’d never consider jumping in my car, turning off the GPS and just driving around, hoping I’d find the place I set out for.

    But after all of that is done, when I know where the story’s going and how it ends, the real fun (at least for me) begins. I consider this the delicious meal I slaved away at for hours cooking. Note: This is a ridiculous analogy because I’ve never slaved over ANY meal for hours but…it’s how I feel. When I can finally bust open my screenwriting app, the adrenaline starts flowing because I know a great journey awaits. There will be tons of discoveries along the way and lots more puzzles to solve but I can’t do it any other way.

    I’m ok with that.

    Keep up the great blogs. We’re out here reading. Really.

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