Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog



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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Whenever you start the heavy writing of your story, do you ever step off the outline you made? i'm currently writing a short story and as i write it i'm forming the story further and further in my head even though i've already wrote it all out. it almost makes it feel like the outline is useless. i mean yeah, it helped me get all my thoughts down into paper and it assisted me in putting the story in the right track but it makes me feel like i'm missing something crucial in writing. like a key point or backbone to keep this from happening. i don't wanna change the entire story or rewrite it fifty times, you know? i'm proud of the product i have and i feel like changing it all is going to mess it up. am i doing something wrong? is there anything you've done to combat this?

Field Marshall von Moltke, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." When you get to writing, you discover where the holes in your outline are. You may discover holes that can be fixed with a little surgery. You may discover structural mistakes.

You may realize you've started the story too late, or too early. You may discover you can merge two characters, or you really need someone for the protagonist to talk to. (I worked on the We Happy Few Victoria DLC for 18 months before I realized that.)

An outline is not a blueprint for a building. It's a chord progression for jazz. If you think of something better than what's in your outline, do that. Many mistakes (& opportunities) don't reveal themselves till you're writing pages.

That's not to say don't outline! (Another general, Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Plans are useless. Planning is essential.") If you just start writing pages, it's much too easy to get lost in the woods. When you *don't* know what else to do, write what's in the outline. One of the strengths of an outline is that it will get you through the points where you decide your whole idea sucks. You can just power through based on your outline, and read the thing later and see if it really does suck or if you were just second-guessing yourself.

However, we all go to pages too quickly. In CRAFTY SCREENWRITING, I say, pitch your story over and over, to anyone who will listen, before writing anything down. Stories get better every time you tell them. It is nerve-wracking to do this. But it exposes many of the flaws in your story. It also provokes better ideas than what you have. There's nothing like seeing your listener sort of drift off, and come up on the spot with something sticky that pulls them back in.

Again: tell your story again and again before you write it down. If this is too scary, write it down and then tell it without looking at what you wrote down. Nothing surfaces a logic flaw more effectively than when you can't remember what comes next.

If you repeatedly find big mistakes in your outlines when you sit down to write pages, maybe try thrashing them out more before committing them to the page.

Also: even when you've gone to pages, sometimes it's a good idea to go back to index cards. Many, many times I've started a rewrite by writing down the beats in the script I've already written. It's much easier to see the whole story when you've got 40-60 index cards on the kitchen table than when you've got a pages and pages of script. It's easy to move the beats around. It's easy to add beats. It's easy to throw out beats.

But, as always: whatever works for you. There is no one way to get to a polished draft. If sticking dogmatically to your outline helps, do that, then rewrite. If writing an outline, then throwing it away, and writing pages from memory works, do that.

Does that help?

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