Your Outline Is Your Road Map

You’ve got a great idea for a movie. You jot down a few notes, buy some screenwriting software, click around a bit, and you’re off! Soon you’re writing clever dialogue and exciting action. And then around page 67 or so things start to fizzle. You lose your way. It’s like hopping in the car and setting out to drive to new destination without consulting a road map. You’re blissfully driving down the freeway without realizing you’ve missed your exit. You take the next exit. You make a wrong turn.  Soon you’re on a dead-end street. That’s what writing a screenplay without an outline is like. It’s fun at first, but then you lose your way.

Your outline is your road map. It’s going to help you get where you need to go. Use your outline to work out the kinks. Where are you introducing your characters? Where is your inciting incident? Are the beats of the story progressing so your character is getting from points A to B to C, or are you missing B? Are you successfully setting up the climactic sequence? These issues are a lot easier to hammer out in outline form than in a 100+ page screenplay. Writing a good outline takes time and effort. But once you have a solid, workable outline, you can follow it like a map when you go to script. Realizing you need another clue for your protagonist to uncover to solve the murder mystery is easier on page seven of your outline than it is once you’ve gotten to the page 107 of your script.

As a Story Analyst I can often tell when a writer didn’t take the time and effort to write an outline. I can tell they didn’t consult the map and they got lost. It shows on the page. Sometime it shows up in the form of a timeline that doesn’t track, or a plot development that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story, or a twist ending that is not credible. So take the time to write the outline. Consult the road map. It will get you where you need to go.