Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 215 - Watching Movies and Creeping Ahead Word by Word

Outlining isn't easy, nor is it quick work. If it was either, the ten incomplete projects on my hard drive would at least each have full first drafts, if not industry-ready scripts to show for all my (varied amounts of) effort on them. No, outlines are the meat of a developmental phase of working on a script. It might only take me three weeks to bang out 90 script pages once the outline is done, but that outline (in and of itself perhaps five to ten pages) is a month long endeavor, if not more. Because the outline contains the framework for the entire plot, each act and every potential major beat, it is a monumental undertaking. It is where the story comes together, and where the weaknesses reveal themselves.

It is also where a writer can most frequently become stuck. 

I can't (or don't want to) tell you how many days these past two weeks I've devoted my daily hour of writing to alternating my blank stare between the blinking cursor on my screen and the clock on my wall. Tick, tick, tick, the second hand mocks me, as the screen goes dim to conserve power, and the outline refuses to grow. Sure, I might add something here or there, but it is typically inconsequential. "The characters have their first date." That's all well and good, but it's also something that anyone who knows anything about the script must assume is in there somewhere, and it rebuffs any further description. While it appears good on screen (progress!), it offers about as much as it did in terms of tangible forward movement than it did when it was unwritten.

Yes, outlines can suck. They can be maddening. If I wasn't worried about going bald, I'd say they can induce hair-pulling. But there's a workaround that I've found helps. Watch movies. Not just any movie (though, sometimes merely seeing something succeed in any genre can be inspiration enough to get past the hump). Specifically, though, it can help to check out movies that are either in the same genre or are somehow otherwise related. For the demon spec, I watch both The Devil's Advocate and The Lives of Others. Devil's Advocate might be a pretty obvious connection, but Lives of Others perhaps at first glance seems an odd parallel. Think about it, though - demons, devils, and the protagonist in Lives are all observers, with the key difference being in how they respond to their subjects. Lives of Others is a great study in observation, and observation is one thing there's not going to be a shortage of in my demon thriller. Lives is also a prime example of a well-paced, engaging movie that has no real typical "action" (i.e., guns and explosions and whatnot). 

When I watch these, sometimes I take copious notes on beats and plot and structure. Sometimes, I just watch and try to absorb. I did a little of both with the above two films. Hopefully, the next time I sit down to work on the outline, I will find that I've actually gleaned something useful from those two viewings.