STUCK VS. SLOWComplications Ensue
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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Last night Lisa and I had a half hour's knock-down-drag-out about a few plot points in Gone to Soldiers, finally resolving the issue so that she was happy -- she believed the characters' motivations -- and I was happy -- nothing important happening offscreen, dramatic back'n'forth between the characters, who wanted things from each other and trie to get them in un-self-aware, twisted, self-destructive ways.

After which, she said she felt stuck.

So I said: stuck? We just fixed a plot point. Slow is not stuck.

Slow progress generally means that there's sticky stuff that has to be handled the right way. Slow progress usually means you're going to come up with something that is non-obvious and therefore fresh.

Stuck means you keep staring at it, not able to get any further.

Lisa's at the outline stage on the second act. I have to keep reminding her that there's nothing wrong with spending months on an outline. The outline's where you should be spending the months. I've never figured out how to write less than a page an hour of actually sitting in a chair in front of the computer. That means that the first draft screenplay takes three to six weeks, tops. I think that's true of most professional screenwriters. When pro's talk about spending a year on a screenplay, I think they're generally talking about spending a lot of time on the outline, or rewriting many, many, many drafts. The first draft is not what takes the time. The story takes time, and the rewriting takes time.

And, of course, the more time you spend on the story, the less time you spend rewriting.

I'm sure we'll get there, and I believe that the slowness now means that the eventual screenplay will unfold in an inevitable yet surprising way. (See my book for an explanation of these terms.)

Good on ya, mate.


Spending six months on an outline only makes sense if you already know how to get the outline right. If you don't, you may find when you start writing that your outline doesn't really work. And six months have gone by.

I suspect that the way screenwriters learn how to write a good outline by trying to work from outlines that either do or don't work.

If you're new at this, maybe you shouldn't let too much time go by before you see if you can actually write the stuff in the outline.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:20 PM  

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