A Twist in the Tale, Part II

A reason writers hit story roadblocks may have to do with whether or not they wrote an outline first.   When I write for television, I don’t start any script until I’ve written a complete outline.  On “Dallas,” I turned in a detailed outline of my episode that needed network approval before I could move on to the script.  On “Falcon Crest” and “Knots Landing” I wrote beat sheets, a one or two line description of each scene, gave them to the showrunner for approval before embarking on my script.  (If you read my previous blog, “Money, Money, Money,” you know writers get paid separately for their outlines.  If an outline doesn’t succeed, it tips off the showrunner that the story might not work either and she or he may therefore decide not to have you go to script.)  And, whether it’s a full outline or a short beat sheet, I structure every act,  know the number of scenes in each act and know how to resolve the story lines.

When I wrote an episode for “Murder, She Wrote,” the writer-producers did not allow me to proceed to script until we all knew exactly what the clues were that led to the “penny drop” scene for Jessica Fletcher, in which she gathered the suspects around her and told them how she knew the identity of the murderer.

In daytime soaps, breakdown writers write only outlines, or breakdowns, which are extremely detailed structures of what the individual episode is going to be about.  Whether writing for primetime or in daytime television, I never start writing the script until I have a strong outline in place.

Having an outline helps you understand the drive of your story, the characters’ goals, stakes and obstacles and makes those moments of writers’ block rare.  Yes, sometimes when I’m writing the script off my outline I realize a plot point doesn’t work, or I come up with a more interesting way of telling the story.  If that happens to you, don’t sweat it.  You don’t have to stick with your outline.  Absolutely go in that different direction.  Outlines are merely the template to get you started and keep you focused on the story.

It’s only when you leap into your script without benefit of an outline that you could find yourself stuck in the middle of your story with no idea on how to finish.

 

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