Step Outline Basically Complete

January 27, 2010

Pardon my recent silence—my work on the screenplay has been dogged by a number of competing priorities from some of my WriteWorks Agency clients with time sensitive marketing copy and Web site copy needs.

But the good news—the step outline for the screenplay is essentially done.

Whew.

It’s coming in at 27 pages—a substantial foundation for the screenplay.

One last thing though…

Before passing it on to the producer, I’m going to spend a day or two, going through it with a more objective eye, cleaning it up, spell checking, and filling any overlooked holes or gaps. Otherwise, it is ready for delivery.

Took you long enough

Yes, yes, it was a long time in coming: longer than the step outline for most other stories I’ve worked on.

In fact, many stories, simpler ones, can be written without creating a step outline.

Not this one though. Too complex. This has been structurally one of the most challenging stories I have ever worked on.

The biggest challenge so far?

So far, it has been the continual effort required to keep this inherently complex story from being unnecessarily complex—continually trimming away anything that isn’t essential so as to keep it from becoming an epic.

And how much smarter it is to trim the fat before writing out the full screenplay! I’ve done that before, and it’s just way too painful. By making the story structurally sound from beginning to end and getting agreement from the producer before I invest so much emotion in time into writing out the complete 110 pages or so of a screenplay—while it is still in outline form—will save me from many gray hairs.

Sure, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting is a seemingly inevitable part of any screenplay development. But starting from a structurally sound foundation will at least reduce the number or severity of rewrites.

I hope.

Optimistically yours,

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Writers Write

January 7, 2010

One quotation I just added to the Writer Motivation and Inspiration quotations page on my blog is this one by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

In reading the introduction to the book The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, written by Karl Iglesias, I find one of those stupidly simple truths; you know—the kind of simple truth that smacks you upside the head and calls you “stupid!” for not already consciously knowing that truth and taking it to heart.

And that stupidly simple truth is…?

Simply this: that writers write.

Well, duh! … but … yeah!

Iglesias doesn’t use those exact words in the intro, but it’s a central theme of the passage.

The simple truth of this point—that writers write (and write and write and write)—is that most people who want to be great writers don’t do it nearly enough to ever hone their craft or prove their prowess.

The value of this simple (but not simplistic, mind you) truth is borne out in the background of several of the highly successful writers that Iglesias interviewed for this book. Many of them, such as Ron Bass, Steven DeSouza, Scott Rosenberg, and Michael Schiffer, talk about the volume of writing they did before they finally sold a piece or hit the big time.

Schiffer, for example, wrote 14 spec scripts (i.e., on speculation of ever selling it, as opposed to writing a script on assignment) before he was hired to write Colors. And Bass wrote four scripts during an 18-month period while he was doing daddy duty and practicing law, no less!

So much for any of the rest of us complaining that we don’t have time to write, ‘eh?

Write early and write often…

Here’s one more quote from the book’s intro that drove this “writers write” point home.

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological, and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating. (Niyi Osundare)

I’m not as successful a screenwriter as I would like to be. However, having sold one original screenplay and several co-written ones, I am propelled to write more, seeing these smaller successes as solid indicators of my potential to get to where I want to be as a screenwriter (i.e., making a reliable living from it). And having now completed reading the introduction of Iglesias’ book The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, I know (duh) that I can boost my screenwriting success quotient by making it more of a habit and thus having a butt load of spec scripts ready to show.

Good book. So far.


Stepping On to Act III

January 5, 2010

Just completed the step outline for Act II. And the story still feels solid, which means that stepping out the third act will be a piece of cake, at least by comparison. From way back to the initial six-page story synopsis, the vision for how the third act should play out was already solid. The tough stuff was figuring out how to get us there (i.e., stepping out Act I and Act II).

I expect then to complete the step outline by the the end of the week, not only because it’s the shortest act, but because it’s fully formed in my mind already.

Few steps to the finish line

One strong advantage of a solid step outline is that it saves a ton of missteps by giving you a solid and objective understanding of the drama, front to back. This means that, when you get to the heavy lifting of the screenplay’s first draft, it isn’t that heavy at all, because you know what to write; the step outline informs you.

I hear the some writers (Stephen King being one of them) throw themselves into a first draft of their story without first planning out what the story is that they want to tell, and then end up throwing out half of what they wrote in future drafts.  I contend this is because they didn’t map out their route in advance, which may yield some unexpected delights on the side roads, but will put a ton of wear and tear on their schedule. 

I don’t know about you, but I barely have time to write out the story from beginning to end when I know exactly where I’m going. I would find the process too painful and frustratingly inefficient if I was regularly throwing out half of what I wrote, which is likely to happen without a step outline or some other pre-screenplay mapping process.

Also, the way I create the step outline (you can read about the process here and here), it’s very much a substantial iteration toward a finished screenplay—all the scenes either suggested or already designed, minus dialogue. The outline will probably end up at 30 pages in length. And with the finished screenplay likely coming in around 105 pages, I’m virtually a third of the way to a first draft of the screenplay when I’ve wrapped up the step outline. image

So, though no laurels to rest upon yet, I’m nonetheless tickled to have hit this progress marker.

Or, to quote my son: "Woot!"

The final moment of Act II…

This moment, just written, is where Joe awakens to his true calling and accepts his destiny as a leader of the people, not just a leader of the police. It marks the end of Joe’s police role and his resurrection as a statesman—as the one potential candidate most qualified on a moral basis to run for the top office and make a solid effort to reform the country’s government … that’s *if* he can win the election, when he is coming up against a dangerous, determined, and powerful incumbency.  Which is the core plotline of the third act.