Sunday, December 29, 2013

Outlines and Scriptments – "You Mean There's More?"

This is a continuation of the earlier discussion on treatments, beat sheets, and synopses.

An outline focuses on the screenplay structure minimizing on storytelling flourishes.  It’s like using 3 X 5 cards put to paper.  Generally more complete than the treatment, subplots fit better into outlines with few missing links.  The outline is more matter-of-fact, detailed, and more like the skeleton of the story than the muscular outer body.

As an outline gives the writer a blow-by-blow look at his screenplay, it can also be used as a diagnostic tool. 

Below is a sample outline that I use.  I do not care if you copy it, change it, or use it.  Simply, this format works for me.  You may want to use literal 3x5 cards.  Or, you might want to use commercially available software.  Whatever works best for you.  Experiment.

This table uses a master scene sequence.  I will write more about that issue later.  You can write the outline out in a scene by scene pattern as well.  Bulletization and page count is useful, but optional.










A technique that I have tried which results in some interesting changes is to write all the scenes down on 3x5 cards then randomly shuffle the cards.  Try re-laying out your story based on the random pattern that results from the shuffle.  Change is good.

A scriptment is a writing device that borrows characteristics from both a regular screenplay and a film treatment.  The scriptments that I have read seem more an embellishment rather than a working tool.  However, scriptments have served writers such as James Cameron handily.  Their structure should be understood.

While the main text body of the scriptment is similar to a treatment, the major differences are that major sequences receive slug lines and it is commonly more fully developed including a great deal of dialogue.  In a scriptment, major scenes and minor scenes (shots) are separated as paragraphs or sentences and also include an occasional explanatory note.  Dialog scenes are more fully developed with single words or brief phrases of dialogue included within the description and lengthier exchanges are formatted exactly as they would be in a regular screenplay.

A scriptment is likely to be written at a higher level of detail (scene by scene) rather than at a lower level of detail (master scene by master scene) as one would find in a treatement.  Indeed, some scriptments are written almost shot by shot.  A scriptment can have a title page and begin with FADE IN: top left and conclude with a centered THE END.  It is written single spaced with an empty space between paragraphs and other elements and the pages are numbered in the upper right corner, just as in a screenplay.

9.  Conscientiousness
Conscientiousness is the act of being both painstaking and careful.  Conscientiousness includes such elements as self-discipline, carefulness, thoroughness, organization, deliberation, and need for achievement.  It is an aspect of what has traditionally been called character.  Conscientious individuals are generally hard working and reliable.

What has that got to do with screenwriting, you ask?

For you to be a successful screenwriter, or successful at anything, you must have conscientiousness.  As a writer, you must write every day.  You have to put your butt in a chair and produce.  Your production must be to standard.

Remember, you are running a business.  Develop some business acumen about dealing with where your cash is coming from and going to.  Develop a sense of the value of your time.  If your agent calls and sets up a meeting – go.  Be on time.  Be prepared.  Be practiced.  Dress neatly.

In regards to character, there is an old Yiddish expression, “Er ist ein Mensch.”  He is a man.  Not in the sense of sexual differentiation, but in the sense that that person actually acts like a person.  When you meet and greet, be authentic.  Do not develop a sense of entitlement.  Remember your “please’s” and thank you’s.”  People appreciate and remember the littlest touches of kindness.

For you to be successful as a writer, you must not only write often and well but you must have the character that other people want to deal with.

Now, don’t be so narrowly focused you lose sight of what is important.  Family is important.  Friendship is important (I do not mean Facebook friends).  Take time out for yourself and for those you care about.  Be hard working.  Be reliable.  Be a ‘mensch.’

Why are you reading this?  Go write!

John still practices screenwriting in King County, WA along with a small rat dog, a mortgage, and a great view of the valley.

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