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Thread: My outlines? Fantastic. My execution? A mess.

  1. #1
    figuring it all out ANightToRemember's Avatar
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    My outlines? Fantastic. My execution? A mess.

    Wonder if anyone else has a similar issue. My putting together of an outline is quite solid (using "fantastic" in the subject line for emphasis - I'm not perfect by any means) and gives me quite a bit of confidence. I have such a great vision in my head with my outlines. Tonight, for example, I wrote a scene-by-scene outline on notecards for most of my first act and it was great. I see it so clearly in my head and know what I want on the page.

    Yet then something strange happens. Despite all my outlining and confidence, I can't seem to properly develop a scene. I wonder if it's just overthinking, but it's really rattling me. For example, my scene has a conflict in it between two characters. But as I write, my characters talk and can't seem to get to the conflict.

    For example, in a current scene I'm writing, two characters are sitting down having a discussion. One recently attempted (and failed) at suicide, the other is his boss. The boss has a daughter who committed suicide, to be revealed at the end of the scene. He's taken a personal interest in his employee due to this, but his employee does not see it that way. He wonders why such an interest has been taken in him. The scene starts with awkwardness, dissolves into an argument, and by the end the boss has a heart attack and dies. My inciting incident for the rest of the story.

    But I just cannot get there. I can't. The characters sit and talk, but it all feels so fake. So phony. Nothing feels natural between the two, and I can't get into the conflict at all. The more I try to push the characters into it, the more I feel nothing rings true.

    Many other scenes feel similar to this. In addition I'm worried about page count, how a reader would respond, how my characters still are not developed enough despite quite a bit of work on them (or perhaps not), etc. My script should be renamed "Beating Around the Bush" because that's all I feel like is coming out of me.

    Long story short: I can't develop a scene without it coming off as forced and untrue.

    Anyone else has an experience or success story with this?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW RightHoJeeves's Avatar
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    Maybe a good place to start could be identifying what the key points are in the scene, and then writing some dialogue (a line or two, or however many you need) to serve as tent poles for the scene. Once you have those, you could fill in the rest. I guess that's kind of like a step between a fully written scene and an outline.
    Being judgemental must surely be one of the most joyful activities known to the species and it is cruel that other animals are denied this pleasure.

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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW
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    Here's some great ideas from John August on how to write a scene http://johnaugust.com/2014/how-to-wr...e-in-two-pages

  5. #5
    Write? I can barely read... G.G. Rebimik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ANightToRemember View Post
    Wonder if anyone else has a similar issue. My putting together of an outline is quite solid (using "fantastic" in the subject line for emphasis - I'm not perfect by any means) and gives me quite a bit of confidence. I have such a great vision in my head with my outlines. Tonight, for example, I wrote a scene-by-scene outline on notecards for most of my first act and it was great. I see it so clearly in my head and know what I want on the page.

    Yet then something strange happens. Despite all my outlining and confidence, I can't seem to properly develop a scene. I wonder if it's just overthinking, but it's really rattling me. For example, my scene has a conflict in it between two characters. But as I write, my characters talk and can't seem to get to the conflict.

    For example, in a current scene I'm writing, two characters are sitting down having a discussion. One recently attempted (and failed) at suicide, the other is his boss. The boss has a daughter who committed suicide, to be revealed at the end of the scene. He's taken a personal interest in his employee due to this, but his employee does not see it that way. He wonders why such an interest has been taken in him. The scene starts with awkwardness, dissolves into an argument, and by the end the boss has a heart attack and dies. My inciting incident for the rest of the story.

    But I just cannot get there. I can't. The characters sit and talk, but it all feels so fake. So phony. Nothing feels natural between the two, and I can't get into the conflict at all. The more I try to push the characters into it, the more I feel nothing rings true.

    Many other scenes feel similar to this. In addition I'm worried about page count, how a reader would respond, how my characters still are not developed enough despite quite a bit of work on them (or perhaps not), etc. My script should be renamed "Beating Around the Bush" because that's all I feel like is coming out of me.

    Long story short: I can't develop a scene without it coming off as forced and untrue.

    Anyone else has an experience or success story with this?
    It does take a lot of practice...

  6. #6
    figuring it all out
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    what i personally do when something doesnt seem right is this

    Mary walked down the corridoor, she looked lovingly into charle's eyes. "I love you."

    Mary sauntered tipsily down the corridoor, she looked in her lover's eyes with an amorous gaze. "I-I freaking love ya, ya cheeky bastard."

    So basically what i do is take an awkward sentence and repeat that line over and over until it feels right or at least acceptable.

  7. #7
    figuring it all out Schnurri's Avatar
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    Is the boss responsible for his daughter committing suicide? Is he upfront about the incident, or is the family skeleton in the closet? I don't know how this impacts your story, but if the boss explained about his daughter earlier and the employee still doesn't understand why his boss cares, which leads to the argument and the death of the boss, then you'd have a development for your employee further on in the book: he understands the motive of his late employer and feels like an idiot for not accepting the help - which could either drive him towards suicide or becoming a better man, helping others. - Just a quick idea.
    Write on! - Schnurri

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    Instead of outlining, have you tried adapting a short novel you love? First go through the novel and cross out every scene and character and bit of description you think the script and/or movie can do without. Now you have the scenes laid out and ready to write.

    You won't be able to sell this screenplay, but I've found this to be excellent practice, and in more than one way.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by Writer MMS View Post
    what i personally do when something doesnt seem right is this

    Mary walked down the corridoor, she looked lovingly into charle's eyes. "I love you."

    Mary sauntered tipsily down the corridoor, she looked in her lover's eyes with an amorous gaze. "I-I freaking love ya, ya cheeky bastard."

    So basically what i do is take an awkward sentence and repeat that line over and over until it feels right or at least acceptable.
    I try to avoid using words that tell a director or an actor how to do something because they're going to do it their own way, and can even get pissed when a writer tells them how they should do something, or how they should say something.

    I avoid anything like, looked lovingly, sauntered tipsily, amorous gaze, etc. I let the action speak for itself, whether it's a kiss or a fistfight. I've found both directors and actors appreciate this.

    If you want something done a particular way, then write it so the director will do it without being told to do it. Instead of telling the director you want a close-up in a given spot, write: Sweat poured down his forehead and into his eyes.

    Only a close-up will show this, and a director will very often do the close up, even though you didn't ask for one.

  10. #10
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    I have this issue as well; it feels like my characters are just rambling on. I think it stems from a lack of tangible motive; the characters have lots of opinions and desires but nothing concrete. In real life, people will argue on with each other even if they are unlikely to get anything out of it but in dramatic terms, it makes it very hard to push the scene anywhere because the characters aren't actively striving for anything.

    In your example scene, there's clearly loads of emotional motives there but what do either of them hope to gain? The employee being creeped out or nervous about his boss's interest in him would lead to quite a passive scene; he is unlikely to want to confront him. However if the employee genuinely thinks he may lose his job/lose a promotion/be moved to a different team, he is more likely to be active because he will be able to find ways of preventing it. As long as the boss's behaviour does leave some ambiguity over whether the employee's job is secure or not, the scene should be much more dramatic.

    The characters need to have clear reasons for wanting to stay in this scene- why is it a conversation that they couldn't put off?
    "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." (Henry James)

    "Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you." (Tender is The Night)

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  11. #11
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    Tonight, for example, I wrote a scene-by-scene outline on notecards for most of my first act and it was great. I see it so clearly in my head and know what I want on the page.
    I don't know anything about screenwriting, but maybe you are putting too much thought and energy into the outline? If you can see it so clearly in your head, and write a detailed outline based on that, maybe when it comes to the actual writing, your brain is thinking 'I've done that already, nothing to add?' Sort of like talking your story to death?
    Have you tried making a very bare-bones outline, while writing down the scenes you see in your head, even roughly, just to get it down, to preserve what you're feeling? Presumably in your head, the dialogue sounded good, or at least plausible, or you wouldn't continue.

  12. #12
    Yep. I went through the same ordeal. I wrote 35 complete outlines before I transcended up into the scene-writing zone. It can be excruciatingly painful.

    I'm not a believer in 'seat of pants' writing, I continue to outline my scripts before scene-ifying them. But over-organization --when taken to extremes--can lead to a dead-end, also. Its called 'analysis-paralysis' and is in itself a form of writer's block.

    These days I only do whatever advance-planning I need to do in order to get the scenes themselves, underway. The scene is the goal, not the outline. No one will ever read your outlines.

    I find that the notecards in Final Draft are superb in that, what you write on a notecard can be sent instantly to the scene in the script mode. This is what really helped me. If you have to write everything in concrete, logical, methodological steps then definitely use these cards.

    You can at least get your sluglines down, and some annotations as to what the scene "must contain". The characters who are supposed to be present.

    Me: only when I know my 'scene goals' inside-and-out do the words flow. It's actually the only time I do 'pants' writing; because that's often the way dialog is. It goes places you can't predict. I can't even tolerate other distractions when it's going on.

    In general, I also try not to write any more dialog than what is needed to get the scene goals completed. Scene-writing borrows much from real life. Its where your ear for dialogue must show up, if it shows up anywhere. And when you think about real life dialogue (think about it at length) you will probably discover that

    1) people rarely say things straight out, or bluntly. People start off their conversations chatting about the weather, or sports, or money, or whatever...they make 'polite noises' at each other ....and only then--as the chat progresses--the questions which are really on their mind start to emerge. The stuff that's really bothering them only comes out gradually.

    I gave the above suggestion a "1)" because right now as I'm typing this, it seems to me a priority. But dialog is a world unto itself. Its a skill you never stop honing. But you have to start. The thing to do is start, then bear down on it until you figure out what your particular knack is.

    p.s. I just followed that link to John August's pdf. Yes, I mostly agree with it; hearty agreement with the section where he talks about 'scribbled scene notes'.
    Last edited by dinky_dau; 10-23-2016 at 02:11 AM.

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