EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first in what we hope will be an ongoing weekly series of writing tips and tricks from our Beloved Leader, LB, AKA this guy.
The TV Writer on TV Writing
by Larry Brody
One of the big differences between beginning writers and old pros is that beginning writers are always telling me how much they love sitting down at the keyboard and winging their scripts, while the pros invariably stress the importance of having a good outline before they start writing.
As an increasingly elder statesman myself, I’ve tried both methods, and have to say that outlining your story is the way to go. In television I often spent as much time on the outline as on all the drafts of the script combined.
There are two reasons for this.
Businesswise, if you outline every beat of your story and get the producer to sign off on it, you’ll know that the producer is comfortable with all the details of the plot, and as long as you stick to the outline you have a better than average chance that the producer will approve of your first draft.
Creatively, having a good outline means less work while writing the script. Instead of worrying about what happens next, you can concentrate on the most interesting and exciting way of making each event happen. You can play with the dialog, round out the characters. You know, do the fun things that probably were why you became a writer in the first place.
Speaking of enjoying the act of writing, know what the least enjoyable writing experience is? It’s when you reach a point where you can’t write the next act, scene, paragraph, sentence, word. That horrifying dead end known as writer’s block.
Beginning writers are always asking me how they can end the agony of staring at an empty page. Yet the pros I know never talk about being stuck in the middle of writing a script. Over the years I’ve come to realize that writers hit walls when they’re insecure about whether story points work. Sometimes this happens after the shaky section. Sometimes before it. Other times right at the point itself. If you’ve worked out an outline and satisfied yourself that this is the best way for your story to go, there is no insecurity. And no dreaded “writer’s block.”
Bottom line: A good outline is like having the world’s best GPS. Your creative trip is a hell of a lot easier if you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there as you barrel down the storytelling road.