Day 212 – The Outline

Posted: 29th November 2012 by Mike Gasaway in The Process, writing

Reading through some old posts yesterday, I realized that I hadn’t written too much about the process in a while.  I should do it now to kinda play a little catch up.

Let’s see.  Where were we?  We started out with a germ of an idea.  It was small and precious but it needed a little bit of watering.  After a little development, the Premise became reality.  Acting as the TV Guide one-liner, this part of the process becomes the quick calling card.  It’s what the story is about – in a nutshell.  Continuing forward comes the basic beats.  What really happens between the beginning and the end.  Nothing fancy – just beats.  These beats beget a treatment and the story is starting to form.  Characters are coming forward and arcs rise and fall.

So what’s next?  Time to write the script or novel?

Well, you can but chances are the scenes will be light and/or boring.  Sure, we can write funny scenes and witty dialog but without a fully figured out road to travel, your story bus ain’t going nowhere.

This next part is called the outline.  The purpose is to outline the story.  DUH…written by Dr. Obvious.  This step still keeps the story relatively simple but very well thought out.  Tons of questions get answered during this step – all while there aren’t too many words to bog us down.  It’s easy to see problems and identify areas that need strengthened.  I actually enjoy this step because this is where I can add fun scenes that can build and develop.

What questions should be answered at this point?  The biggest is how does the main character grow?  If the main PROtagaonist doesn’t learn something, fail, pick himself up, get better – the audience will leave the theater or put down the book or change the channel.  We don’t want that.  Keep that character learning.  One easy way to do this is to keep the character on his toes.  If the scene before, he succeeds, make sure this one he fails and vice versa.  This up and down ride entertains the audience and better yet, makes them believe your main character.

How do these scenes go together?  One way that I like to see if scenes work is by removing them completely from the story.  I’ve done a lot of story fixing and the first thing I do is boil down the entire story into beats like an outline.  Each scene should be melted down to one line – Mac visits Thea who gives him a disgusting Snabert cookie.  Simple.  The line should have a why that the author can answer.  For example, why a Snabert Cookie?  Who’s Thea?  Why did she give it to Mac?  What is so disgusting about it?  These questions lead to a stronger scene.

Better yet, it connects with the next scene (or another scene to come).  Another scene could be – The group, with the aid of the Snabert cookies, traverse the tree of foreboding to the Castle of the Femur King.  The story could NOT get to this point without the previous scene.  The next scene couldn’t work without this one.  It all comes together.  Make sure they do.  They don’t have to be successive but they do have to fit together.

This is very important – if it don’t fit, you must acquit!  Well, not exactly (for you OJ fans out there).  If the scene isn’t needed, get rid of it.  Cut it out.  Toss it in the trash and burn it.

I remember watching an animatic of a movie before it hit production.  I was asked what I thought and I instantly said, “Remove that silly scene when they go to Vegas.”  I was met with the reply of, “But it’s so funny!”  To which I did agree.  It was funny but it took away from the entire story.  It kept us from the main character and his journey and worse yet – had ZERO to do with the rest of the movie.  It wasn’t needed and had to be excised.

As per this director, the scene stayed in for a LONG time until the producers stepped in and said cut it; it doesn’t fit.  At this stage, so much work had been done that a lot of money was wasted.

If it doesn’t work – cut it out!

The outline is much more fleshed out and is a few more pages at this point.  The outline for my novel was about 19 pages or so.  It was broken down just like an outline would.  Start it out broad and then keep adding more and more details under it.  Here’s an example from the book:

As you can see, it’s pretty detailed the further to the right you go.  It’s a basic idea first (The Stairs) and are the major beats.  Under that are the beats FOR that beat.

This level of detail gets the story pretty clear and allows us to get onto the next level!!

Finally!  We’re ready to write the script or novel.  And that’s where things can get a little different.  Stay tuned!