The Importance of Having a Script Blueprint: Five Tips for Outlining Before You Write

BlueprintOutlining. Many writers cringe or scratch their heads in confusion when presented with the task. But consider an architect who attempts to construct a building without a blueprint. He wouldn’t know where to start, he probably wouldn’t have a clear vision of the expected outcome, and the building would probably not be very well made. The blueprint ensures each step of construction is accounted for and the end is clear from the beginning. Similarly, in screenwriting, the outline will ensure a purposeful structure and a clear end goal for your story.

Despite its importance however, the idea of outlining varies greatly and is open to interpretation. Each writer has their own unique process that they undergo before they launch themselves into their next project. However you decide to go about it, the process of outlining before you begin is essential to writing a successful screenplay.

The pros to outlining are plentiful. What makes outlining important, is that it has the potential to give you a clear sense of direction and purpose before you write Act 1, Scene 1. You can clearly visualize act by act and even scene by scene. It also allows you to write in a cohesive manner that prevents many of the logic problems that plague those scripts that have not been as thoroughly thought through before the actual writing process begins. It allows you to know the end goal from the very beginning. Outlining will not only lead to you writing a stronger first draft, but also greatly improve your abilities as a writer, making you more efficient and precise. Outlining will bring a clear sense of structure to your screenplay, and will help bring structure to you as a writer. Outlining is an often-undervalued part of the writing process that can nevertheless reap great rewards for diligent writers. Here are a few tips primed to help you with your outlines before you FADE IN:

Know Your Characters

Before you start your next screenplay, it’s important that you have an innate sense of who your characters are. You need to be fully aware of your character’s goals, their motivations, their flaws and their failures. By becoming aware of these elements, you are more likely to write a script that feels authentic, and are less likely to write characters that contradict themselves. You will have and be able to see a character’s arc and form a clear trajectory from the beginning.

One way to do this is to create a character profile. By creating a document that catalogues, for example, your character’s backstory, their physical and personality traits, as well as their wants, you will be able to better organize your thoughts and have a point of reference to go back to while you work on your script. A good, organized character profile can help you write dialogue that feels true to your protagonist’s personality, and keep track of their relationships with other characters.

While it’s important that you do this for your protagonist, definitely consider creating profile documents for your other characters as well. By taking the time to understand your antagonist and supporting characters before you start writing your script, you will undoubtedly improve your chances of writing a compelling story complete with fleshed-out, lived-in personalities and dynamic relationships.

Research

“Ignorance is bliss” is a popular saying that holds little to no weight in the world of screenwriting. Conducting research is a great way to make your story feel not only more authentic, but also to expand your knowledge base and make you a more capable writer. Research can help you come up with new plot points, additional characters, and even help your world-building abilities.

Readers like being able to trust a writer; they want to read work by someone who seems to know what they’re writing about. The more you know about your topic of choice, the more effective your script will be. For example, if you’re writing a procedural crime drama, your research can help you learn about the “chain of command” in certain law enforcement departments, or the nuances of “chain of evidence.” As a result, you’ll be able to craft dialogue and action with more confidence, making your first draft feel more assured and lived-in. This will bolster your credibility to readers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with how you conduct research either. You can gather your sources from a variety of different places: Journalism archives, obscure documentaries and old news footage. You can even take the initiative to go out and interview potential sources yourself. Be sure to take copious notes while conducting your research, so you have a reference point to go back to while writing.

Understand Where Your Story Is Going

It can be tempting to write off-the-cuff. There’s certainly a sense of freedom that comes with opening up a blank page, and writing without a clear sense of where your story might go. That being said, if you’re interested in pursuing screenwriting as a profession, it can be extraordinarily helpful to have a plan for what the events of your script will comprise of.

Before you begin your first draft, take the time to outline the scenes that will make up your script. Create a list of the moments that comprise each act of your story, and highlight the key “turning point” scenes. Which of these scenes is your inciting incident? Which one will serve as the climax, and which one will resolve your story?

By taking the time to actively understand where your story is headed, you can write with those “goals” or “signposts” in mind. This simple act of outlining will give your writing a better sense of direction, and lessen the likelihood of your first draft becoming muddled or confusing.

Break Down Your Scenes

Screenwriting is often a marathon-like process. It involves managing and keeping track of a large number of scenes, locations and competing character motivations. It’s easy to lose your sense of what makes a particular scene “important” or noteworthy in the grand scheme of your story.

That’s where “breakdowns” come in. Breakdowns are a convenient way for you to plan out and analyze your scenes before you write them. When writing a breakdown, try and reduce your scene to its most essential elements: What characters are involved? What is each character trying to accomplish in this scene? How does the setting, or situation at hand, affect the way these characters act?

Breakdowns are an excellent way to manage complicated scenes. You can use them as reference documents while writing, so you won’t lose track of what you’re trying to accomplish while in the thick of particularly difficult sequences.

You can also breakdown your script on index cards, with specific scenes and character actions highlighted. This works particularly well when working with non-linear storylines as you can move the index cards (scenes) around with the timelines to see how a different sequence of events will affect your story.

Make a Writing Schedule

One of the chief obstacles for any writer is time or, more accurately, lack thereof. It can be frustrating trying to finish a screenplay while managing your other responsibilities. A writing schedule is an excellent way to set a timetable for yourself before you begin writing your next screenplay. It’s not only an opportunity for you to manage your deadlines, but it can also help you pinpoint your smaller, more immediate goals.

You can use a writing schedule to parcel out your to-do list as you embark on your next project. It’s an opportunity to manage the gargantuan task of writing in bite-size chunks; for example, you can give yourself the short-term goal of finishing a particularly challenging scene in a certain number of days.

This is not only a great motivator, but also a prime example of why outlining is so useful. If you’ve taken the time to break down and list your scenes, you might also have a clearer sense of how long it’ll take to finish your script. By combining your outline with a realistic schedule, you can approach your next draft in a more professional and time-efficient manner.

By following these five tips, you will not only make yourself a more effective outliner but also a stronger writer.


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