Hey, everyone! Hope you’re all “keeping safe,” LOL. What a cliche that has become. Sigh.
Now as some of you may know, I play in a Pink Floyd tribute band called Continuous Signal (sign up for our mailing list here!) We do these huge, elaborate performances, and right now like everyone else, we’re sidelined. Well, turns out there’s another Pink Floyd tribute band that got so frustrated with the lockdown order that they staged a lawn concert in Rumson, New Jersey.
Yeah, that didn’t go so well.
ANYWAY, we’re all stuck inside; we’re all “keeping safe;” and you amazing writers are kicking some serious gluteus.
You have finished WEEK ONE of the CI 30-DAY Screenwriting Challenge.
So here’s where you should be right about now. For both features and pilots, you should hopefully have finished your outline and be ready to move into the actual writing. On the feature side, you should have around 40-60 scenes, with at least a general idea of what happens in each one. Trust me, it’s perfectly fine to not know exactly how you’re going to get from the midpoint act 2 to the “All Is Lost” moment that ends the act. You’ll figure that out. Just try to have a slightly better handle on the overall plan than the Underpants Gnomes from South Park.
On the TV side, regardless of whether you’re writing with act breaks or not*, your 1-hour pilot should have 4-6 acts, and you should still end each act with a “button,” AKA an emotional high point or cliffhanger. Your outline should be anywhere from 5-30 pages (seriously. There’s something called a “scriptment” which is basically just the entire script without dialogue. These are used as development tools in Hollywood.)
OK, so what if you haven’t finished the outline yet? As the late, great Douglas Adams, author of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book series advised, don’t panic. Adams himself was notorious for always being terribly late with material and for not having any ideas until hours before the deadline, at which point he would burn the midnight oil and crank out a pile of staggeringly brilliant chapters.
Here are a few tips if you get stuck:
- Take the pressure off. Give yourself a few more days. Often, getting the outline right takes more time than the actual writing. If it takes two weeks to nail the outline, so be it. Once you have a solid roadmap, the writing will go easier anyway. In fact, let’s say you write seven pages a day — at that rate, with a solid outline, you can finish a first draft of a pilot in a week and a feature in ten days. take a deep breath and give yourself some extra time if you need it.
- Refuel. The best thing one can do is watch similar movies and TV shows to not only get creative ideas but also to see how they handle pacing, structure, etc. Whatever genre you’re writing, make a list of similar movies and TV shows and then sit down and watch them with pen and paper in hand. Make shorthand notes of what happens in every scene. This should help you to identify holes in your structure or pacing problems.
- Pull the other one. Oftentimes, we are our own worst enemies. We have preconceived notions that what we’re writing must go a certain way, because that’s the way we conceived it. But then in the writing process, we realize, hmm, this doesn’t feel right. What do we do? Why, we ignore that voice in our head, of course! Uggggh. Instead, try to LISTEN to your own inner voice of reason and realize, “Okay, maybe that doesn’t work. Maybe I should do something else.” Just this weekend I was working on a script and I realized that something I wanted to happen could not possibly happen in the way I wanted it to. So I pivoted and made the scene about one character ridiculing another for even thinking that could happen in the first place. Whenever you hit a plot bump, call it out in the script. Pick one of your characters to be the audience surrogate. If the audience is going to bump on something, one of your characters should be the doubting Thomas on the page. And when all else fails, pivot. You may have wanted to zig; zag instead, and then accept the plot consequences that come with that. Great things may come of it in terms of adding additional, more realistic, obstacles, and it will read as fresher on the page.
- Get help! Don’t be afraid to run your outline past friends, writing group, significant other, even your hyperintelligent galacticat Farbulax. Incredibly, others may have some good ideas that could help. (Be careful about Farbulax, though. I wouldn’t give too much weight to her suggestions.)
So now you should be ready to progress to the script. This is it! Get crackin’. And remember that the goal at the end of week two (April 14th) is to finish Act 1.
Need help? Shoot us an email! [email protected].
You guys have got this. We’re so excited to see what you come up with!
* Omit the act breaks if the material is targeted primarily at pay cable or streaming. Remember that many basic cable shows such as BREAKING BAD, PREACHER and SONS OF ANARCHY, and so on really pushed the envelope with mature storylines, gore, etc., and they still had commercial breaks.