Friday, January 26, 2007

Roll Them Bones! (or what to do after you have an outline)

So, after reading the two previous posts (links at the bottom of the page) you went off and wrote an outline for your next great DVD Premiere opus.

Now put it away. Wait three days, and read it again. Rewrite it. Read it again.
Rewrite it again...and again until you have it "right."

Now comes the fun part - you get to write the first draft of the script. Many people are scared to do it, because they feel they don't know what they are doing. Don't worry - that's never stopped me! Seriously though, you do know what you are doing - you have an outline right in front of you with what's supposed to happen. It's not so detailed that it slows you down, but it's just detailed enough to point you in the right direction.

How fast you get there is up to you, but you do know where you need to end up.

Let's assume this is an assignment and you've been given 30 days to turn in your first draft. You've taken a week to get the outline in shape. That leaves two weeks to write it and one week to polish it up. Wow! That gives you two whole days off this month! I'm envious.

Don't worry because when writing that first draft - you're only going to be working two hours a day. Either in the morning or in the evening or both. This way, if you have a day job you can write the script without killing yourself. The goal is to hit a mark of 10 pages a day.

You read that correctly.

The reason I say that is you're going to turn off the critical, left portion of your brain and work primarily with the right, creative side of your brain. You've already done the editing in your outline. Your story is right there on that page and it works. What you want to do is put text to paper and fill those pages with as much creativity as you can muster.

That means letting yourself be bad. Terrible even. Boring dialogue. Misspelled words. Poor grammar - the works.

Oh sure, there will be some nuggets of cleverness in there, so smile when you hit those. They give you energy like those sugary marshmallow treats in Lucky Charms. Then get back to writing. Speed counts, not accuracy. Your accuracy you've already taken care of in your outline.
Just glance up after you've finished a scene and pull out a pen and mark that scene off the list.

And when two hours or ten pages are finished for the day - stop. Really.

(If it takes you longer than two hours to write ten pages then relax the following day and just keep winging it. This is for yourself. You aren't showing this first draft to anyone. Do not worry about making it perfect)

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Now let's say you're going along swimmingly and you type "FADE OUT" on day 14.

Congratulations. You've made it further than 95% of other folks who say they have a script idea. Take the next day off. Relax. Don't write anything.

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Take a printed version of your script and outline and a red pen (or green or blue, whatever) and read the script. Make a note where you veered off the outline - did it work better in the outline or on the scripted page? Why? Where can you make the scene move or sing?

Note: this is the biggest reason why working writers create an outline (or beat sheet) it allows you to rewrite quickly and efficiently, and an outline is such a short, flexible document that if something different works better in the script all you need to do is rewrite the outline so you can see how it affects other elements of the script.

After you go through and make the changes in the outline you're ready to tackle a quick rewrite (7 days) so you can later turn that in as your first draft. I like to go through in stages and tackle the structure (and action), the dialogue and then the characters.

I wouldn't be able to do that in a timely manner if it weren't for the revised outline in front of me.


Putting in the Bones to Support Your Script
More Bones for Your First Draft

5 comments:

Arctic Goddess said...

Bill, I just love the information you are sharing. I find it very helpful for my amateurish attempts at screen writing. It's fine for a professional to tell me that my scripts need work, but your information gives me an idea about where I went wrong in the first place. Thanks for that.

Question: Is there a standard industry number of acts in a script? I've seen 4 acts in some and 5 or 6 in others. This would be for an hour long show, of course.

Bill Cunningham said...

For those kind of questions I refer you to Alex Epstein over at Complications Ensue. He has a whole section on his blog devoted to questions just like that. Since he's a "TV guy" he's on the front lines of that.

Good luck and have fun.

Eleanor said...

But Bill...

Okay, so how do I turn off the critical, left portion of my brain? ;)

Bill Cunningham said...

I find that a good scotch works wonders...

But I'm a bastard. What do I know?

Eleanor said...

Yeah, my first thought was copious amounts of alcohol. :)

A drinking induced coma doesn't really help the writing though.

May try it anyway. ;)