Good Day Odd-Jobbers,
In order to write, you must write. It’s the ultimate cliché, but it always rings true. Like going to the gym: the hardest part is stopping with the excuses, admitting you have a developed idea, and putting pen to paper. I’ve said my goodbyes to Old Screenplay, and it’s on its way to apply for fellowships, enter competitions, the works. It’s new screenplay time.
There’s so much work to do when you start a new script. Where I usually fail is the moment after the initial burst of inspiration ends. You get an idea for a character, a situation, setting, etc. You’re excited about it. You jot down a bunch of notes, maybe for a few hours.
“OMFG this is gonna be amazing!” You may say to yourself while sipping on gin and juice, laid back, with your mind on your inciting incident and your inciting incident on your mind. (Brace yourselves, they get worse).
The agonizing work of punching out an outline is made more difficult for an Odd-Jobber. A full-time screenwriter on assignment or a trust-fund artist can just plop down at their computer for six hours at a time and click-clack-click away at the keyboard whenever they damn feel like it. Odd-Jobbers have to squeeze out every minute we can. Here’s the hook: I’m currently wrapping up planning my wedding and honeymoon to Ireland in a month while still trying to find time to write the outline. Gasp!
Thankfully, this isn’t my first trip around the page, and I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to write. Whenever I get stuck with a script I tend to wander over to another one and fool around with it for a while until I get re-inspired. Due to my ADHD, I’ve completed a great deal of research and character development on my new screenplay over the past year, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m going to put in the outline.
Before I continue let me clarify that I’m not entirely certain what the “right” way to begin a screenplay is. There are many schools of thought from writing a logline first, to characters create the story, objective of the screenplay, etc. I’m going to assume, that like me, you’re not entirely certain either.
I usually (not always) dive into a screenplay with my characters basically figured out, and a pretty solid idea of WHO, WHAT, WHERE, HOW, and especially WHY (with room to discover). Also I have an end and a beginning. If you’re a novice and don’t know the basics like story, plot, character, environment, obstacles, and the likes; head over to our Screenwriting Basics and How to Write a Screenplay sections and start there before writing an outline.
So how does one get over the initial wall of hard work to begin a screenplay outline? I’d love to say grit, willpower, determination, cliché, cliché, etc. Nope. This Odd-Jobber has a few tactics in my arsenal, one of which is the old ‘If you eat your broccoli you can have dessert’ tactic.
Let’s say you have an evening to yourself (I know it’s a stretch). On your way home from one of your seventeen jobs (being a parent counts as three), pick up a pint of your favorite (organic free-trade) ice cream: The one you swore you wouldn’t get again because it makes all of your clothes shrink. As soon as you get home (after putting the ice cream in the freezer) open up a new word document on your computer and set it up like this:
Introduction (Setting, Characters, Time, Genre):
Third Act Twist:
Pick up the phone and order a pizza (or similar take-out) for delivery and immediately start filling in those non-numbered sections. Keep in mind that all of the material you are writing is fluid: it can be moved around, edited, and replaced; now or later. By the time your pizza gets to your door you better have filled in all of the non-numbered sections or you throw the ice cream in the garbage. (Seriously, I once threw a pint of Butter Pecan out of my kitchen window and accidentally hit a jogger). Crack open the pizza box and nosh while perusing over what you’ve written. Make any necessary changes and wrap up dinner once you feel comfortable with your Five Key Plot Points.
Now the hard part: What happens in between? You’re essentially creating a spider web wherein everything has to connect and affect each other one way or another. Ideally each one of your number sections will be an obstacle, obstacle solution, necessary character development scene, sub-plot compatible to the central plot, or raising of the stakes for an even bigger obstacle. You can fill in these numbers in any order you want. (I think it works best to work from the top down, and then when you run out of ideas work from the bottom up). Every time you finish eleven numbered “scene” outlines that you’re satisfied with, grab your ice cream from the freezer and devour some friggin’ ice cream like it’s the last damn ice cream you’ll ever eat on this Odd-Jobbing planet.
Hopefully by the end of the evening you’ll have a gut full of tasty unhealthiness and be staring satisfied at a rough-rough-rough-sandpapery rough draft of an outline. In order to write, you must write. But in order to write WELL, you must re-write, re-write, re-write, re-write… and that applies to the outline as well.
We Odd-Jobbers aren’t born with a quill in our hand and a Villa in Tuscany to pen our next great work. We’re all prone to fits of procrastination and playing the victim. The reality of being an Odd-Jobber is that if you really do want to be a writer, you need to write. It’s frustratingly mind-bending hard work to write an outline. But, Ice cream makes everything better.
Good Morrow Odd-Jobbers,