I’m currently enrolled in the UCLA TFT Professional Program for Screenwriters (Online) and our third term is devoted to pounding out a complete screenplay in just 10 weeks. Well less actually, since we spent the first two classes on logline, synopsis, and beat sheet.
Everyone in my class is struggling at the halfway point, although probably by design.
The primary issue is this: Lack of preparation.
Most of us have very little idea of where we are headed. We thought out the basics, had an idea of a beginning, middle, and end, but as the process unfolded and we learned more about our characters and story as we wrote, we all find ourselves in the dreaded second act doldrums.
To be quite honest I have never been an outliner. Throughout my educational experience (and beyond) I have just sat down and written first drafts. Maybe a few times I would do a very simple outline but it was rare.
Writing a screenplay though is much more complex and difficult than anything I have ever undertaken as far a writing goes. I’m learning that a solid outline and plan is important for such complicated projects. But not in the way I would have thought.
While in the end I doubt my story would be any different had I done a thorough outline, I do believe it would be easier to write. I also know that no matter what my intent was in that outline I would stray from it, perhaps even drastically. That’s O.K. though.
My point is this, use the outlining process (snowplow, index cards, beat sheets, step outlines, etc.) and the results themselves as a guide to push you though the tough times, but be true to the characters and story and let things go where they naturally should. That little voice in your head will be telling you that you are wasting all that work on the outline if you deviate too far but don’t listen to it. Stray. Explore. Create as you go.
I guess that’s a lot like life. Have a plan, be committed, but don’t let that plan get in the way of creating a really good and fulfilling story, that is your life.