Chapter 70 – Outlining Your Web Series Saves the Day
by Leesa Dean
This has been a crazy week. My cat Lamont suddenly got very sick so I stopped working for a few days–running back and forth to the vet, buying medicine, etc. Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon when he seemed be better, I went out to play tennis and blow off some steam and BAM, the guy I was hitting with accidentally (I’m hoping accidentally anyway) bashed in my finger when he mistakenly hit a ball towards me at about 70 mph. Luckily, the finger didn’t break, wasn’t on my right hand or a thumb (which would’ve really freaked me out for drawing) but was swollen, bruised and I was NOT a happy camper. I also was forced to take a few extra days off while my finger and the cat healed.
Meanwhile, a friend who has an idea for a web series but hasn’t written anything yet asked me about the best way to proceed. I told her to outline everything. She’d never done it before (she’s written one movie script using the “I’m just winging it” method) and was a little intimidating by getting right in a short format. She also wants to ultimately break into tv writing.
Since I was laid up, I had the time to help break down what’s involved for her and realized, ok, these tips might also be useful for other web creators/aspiring web creators…if (high drama), I can ever type again. I’ll cut to the chase: I can type again. And since outlining is an important part of being a tv writer, it’s also a crucial skill to develop if you’re attempting to go that route. Creating/writing/outlining a web series is a great place to start. So, hobbled finger and all, here are four tips to get started:
1 – Think of your web series as one big episode. If you have, say, ten episodes in a season, identify the story and character arcs that you plan on developing. I think it’s important to do both. Any good script has characters that evolve and change and if you know how the shorelines also change, you can hook viewers who want to see what happens.
2 – Once you know the main storyline of the season, start fleshing out the individual episodes. I strongly suggest using a three act structure for comedy and a five act structure for drama. Yes, these acts will be tiny but they should mirror episodic tv scripts, just smaller. Truthfully, being forced to write in this format is a great exercise for tv writers. It forces you to get to the point and shed excess dialogue, plot points. A great book that’s not about tv but one that I’ve found helpful is: Comics and Sequential Art by comic book great Will Eisner. It teaches you how to effectively condense plot lines and dialogue. Good scriptwriting, whether it’s for the web, tv or movies should be simultaneously lean and meaty.
3 – Structure your plot points within each act so you know the beginning, middle and end. I strongly adhere to the Chekhov’s Gun theory both in real life and while writing: Don’t introduce a gun (or a plot or dialogue point) in act one if you don’t use it by then end of act three. Meaning, every single thing you write should be connected and have a payoff. Don’t believe me? Just watch Breaking Bad with that in mind. If you don’t have a payoff for everything you introduce in a small format like a web series, you’re just wasting time and it can be confusing.
4 – While I don’t write every single line of dialogue in an outline, I do write every main joke I’m going to use. It makes it easier to write the rest of the flow.
In all, I spend most of my time outlining. Since it’s an in-depth blueprint, banging out the script should be really easy.
Hope this helps. Next week: meetings, meetings, meetings and gearing up for some new YouTube events.