Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Outlining Is Hard

Having written four almost-novel-length rough drafts for NaNoWriMo and three screenplays for ScriptFrenzy, I already know that long-form writing is real work. But when I'm in the day-to-day of writing chapters and scenes, it's fun and rewarding work. Even when I know what's going down on the page is crap, I know I will (or am supposed to) come back and fix it later and I can get in the flow.

In those projects, the rough spots I ran into always had to do with story--trying to come up with at least the semblance of a feasible set of characters, setting, and plot. But once I thought I had those in hand, I dove in and figured I'd be able to to push my way through. I guess I thought of myself as a seat-of-the-pants writer--a panster. I haven't been satisfied with the results.

On my latest project, a screenplay, I figured I should probably follow the sage advice of the teachers I've been reading and following, namely Blake Snyder and Alex Epstein, and do a real outline, with beats, a basic scene breakdown, and everything. As I noted in a previous post, the personal deadline for having the outline is this Sunday, so I can start writing scenes on Monday. I gave myself last week to finish off the logline (which I mostly did) and this past weekend to do the story beats and breakdown (using 'the board'). I got my ass kicked.

Procrastination and long-weekend mentality meant that I didn't really start until Monday morning. Of course, that meant that I had the whole thing to do in a day, but I figured I'd at least get the high points and fill in the rest this week. I guess what I found out is that what I thought were settled story points had not been giving enough thought, so when I tried to nail them down they kept squishing about like jello. To top it off, my other project, a novel, kept popping into my brain. Like an idiot, I figured I should try to stay focused, so I didn't capture those, either.

It all boils down to the fact that I now see that I am probably a week behind. I need to get these story points settled. Then I can break them down and fill in the beats. Then I can write up the outline. Then I can write the rough draft. I'm getting an inkling of why writers who do this for a living call it work.

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