Screenwriting : Any tips or advice to write longer outlines or scripts? by Robert Destefano

Robert Destefano

Any tips or advice to write longer outlines or scripts?

I've been making short films ever since high school and after high school. I always have ideas for features and had carefully outlined the general ideas through bullet points to map them out correctly. But when it comes to the outlining part that's where I get stuck. Generally I would write 2 or maybe 5 paragraphs of the outline. But right when I hit that period in the last sentence between those 2-5 paragraphs. I instantly get stuck and have writers block. Usually when this happens I start to come up with other ideas and write those out too. But then it repeats over and over again. I can't seem to figure out a way around this problem that I've been having. I'm so use to writing shorts! haha. I was wondering if there happen to be anybody here that had gone through a similar problem and had found a way to break that barrier to write longer outlines and/or scripts. Any advice or tips would be helpful :)

Steven Michael

I'm new, but what works for me in getting past your stopping point is all of the preparation before outlining. Much like CJ, I start with the theme - really boil down what your script is about. Then I move on to notes and research on concept and message. This can cover entire legal pads of notes. Then, how do characters reinforce both theme and message - what are the best characters to deliver these? It sounds like the second act blues you may be experiencing. So maybe more research, deeper character understanding, but most of all, creating dramatic events that follow theme are important in my work.

Robert Destefano

All really great advice, thank you everyone! :)

Tiffy Diamond

Sometimes you can step away from the project and come back. I do a lot of stream of consciousness when flushing out an idea. It looks like gibberish but then I go back highlight key points and organize it into a story making sure to hit the major beats. Also storyboarding with post-its help. When it comes to feature films just work at doing at least a page a day. It's a small goal, but attainable and most days you'll write more than that. Good Luck!

Robert Destefano

Mark: I'll definitely check it out. Thanks! :D

Richard Toscan

A radical idea if you've got time to spare: A small number of screenwriters never outline -- Joel and Ethan Coen among them -- despite what nearly all the how-to books tell you to do. It's possible you're a writer, not an outliner, so try writing a first draft of at least 90 pages starting with at least a vague understanding of your leading characters and some sense of the story you want to tell and see what happens. If you hit a wall after 30 pages in format and haven't inadvertently allowed the conflict between the characters to resolve itself, then go back to the books and outlining.

Yasmin Neal

what I do is i get a tablet number it 1-90 and I write my story with each line being the "summary of the scene or summary of whats going on" cause sometimes lines number #5-8 could still be the same scene. Then I write my screen play. If I am doing a short sitcom; 20 30 pages, I do the same thing. If there are spaces in there where I dont know what to do in that area or with the character; I leave those numbers blank and fill them in later. This method is sooo easy for me and others.

Tim Vanbaelen

once, i've written an outline and suddenly it turned out to be 7 pages long, then i developed a story from it, most of the time i just start to write out my ideas, but i tend to keep a 2-3 line paragraph of each idea i get, just so i don't forget, also => the middle part i do come up with when i'm writing the full story, beginning + end i have almost always pinned down (and no, they aren't short stories that are expanded beyond breaking point)

Floyd Marshall Jr.

Robert, instead of outlining just come up with your script concept, then sit down and write your story. You're thinking too much and sometimes that may impede the natural writing process. Just start typing and whatever comes out just keep typing. We have rewrites for a reason, cuase your first draft is just that, your first draft. It will be vastly different from your finished product, so get out of your head and just write. Trust me, your characters will lead you as will the situation as it unfolds on the page. Good luck!

Terry Hayman

Coming from a background of writing novels that I rarely outlined beyond basically knowing the beginning, a cool scene or two in the middle, and the basic place I wanted it to end, I know you can certainly produce stories without outlines. But crossing into screenplays, I've been studying Syd Field, Blake Snyder, Chris Soth, etc. because I think most movie execs expect a basic understanding of 3-act structure. Good stuff to know even for short films. But for getting unstuck, I'd advise mostly looking at where you want your protagonist to end up (his/her growth or change), and what is the main external story question you want answered (e.g. Does the bad guy get caught? Does the city survive? Do your leads end up together?). When you're stuck, ask yourself what could get in the way or push towards where you want the the protag to end up? What could make the ending you want seem more possible or more hopeless?

Charles Harris

Hi Robert, Some people are outliners, some people are "pantsers" - writing by the seat of your pants with no plan at all - and some between the two, plan a bit, risk a bit... There's no right or wrong way. Personally, I like to have a rough idea of the key points - beginning, end, big turning point that kicks off the story. What a lot of the books miss out is what I call the "second act project". In other words, the middle of the story is taken up with your protagonist struggling to do something big and important - rob a bank, win the girl/boy, save the world, drive across Australia... whatever. Imagine you're the protagonist and make a plan of the steps you'd need to take (get a team together, case the bank, try a dummy run, etc). Of course, things will go wrong, and of course your characters will have to pass or fail inner challenges along the way, but you'll find you can fill up a fair number of steps in the journey. Then don't worry about too many details, dive in and sort out the mess later!

J. Ralph Fisgus MD

Am I glad to read these comments! I thought it was just me. I can't outline! I just finished finished a script. Has the idea, how it would begin, how it would end and started writing. It was so exciting to me because each day I started with " I wonder what's going to happen next. ! In the end you go back and start filling it out, deepen the subplots, whatever. Then share it with people I trust to read it and give me feedback. I think some of us are natural storytellers. You start and you see where you go. Have fun with it. Otherwise it's a job...

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