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Creating A Pilot: The Outline – Lesson Two

January 19, 2015

Creating an outline seems pretty simple. What could anyone possibly have to say that would help me create a better one? Or maybe you’re one of those people that despise outlines. “Outlines stifle my creativity! I need to be free to let my imagination flow!” An outline doesn’t have to be limiting. An outline can be loose, and carefree, allowing room for your characters to change up the storyline a bit. I’m going to give you my thoughts, because I used to be one of those people that hated writing outlines. I think you’ll find that an outline can save you time, prevent you from hitting dead ends, and keep you on track so that you actually finish with a story your audience will want to see.

There is no right or wrong way to write an outline, and there are many. Some people prefer to use the numbered outline, listing scene plot points. There’s nothing wrong with that and it can give you lots of room to breathe. Brian Klems uses a 7 step process, craft your premise. If you read my post last week, you’ve already completed step one. The first thing I do, after coming up with the premise, is to start laying out my scene plot points. I break down each scene into its major idea, about a paragraph per scene. I’ll leave out any dialogue unless its something really clever that I know I want to put into the final draft.

After I’ve got most of my major plot points down, I make sure they fit into the 3-act-structure. There are some that say you don’t need a 3-act-structure. I will tell you that you can, in fact, create a well-received story without having a 3-act-structure. But you first must learn the rules before you can break them. So, if you don’t already know how to create a 3-act-structure, learn it. Once you’ve mastered it, then you can go on creating stories how you feel they should be written. The 3 acts are simple; the beginning, the middle, and the end.

One last thing I do when creating my outline is to flesh out my characters. I like to get inside their heads and learn what makes them tick. It’s very cathartic. It’s the closest you’ll get to being an actor without actually being one. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to literally interview your characters. You’ll find the deeper you dig into their psyche, the more interesting fodder you’ll find for your story.

So, to break it down, I start by creating a story premise. The next step, I break down each scene into its core plot points. Then I make sure that it fits into a 3-act-structure. If you’re writing a drama TV pilot, you’ll need to learn the 4, 5, and 6 act plot structures as well, but as long as you’ve got 3 acts, breaking it down further won’t be difficult. Every TV network has their own act breaks. And lastly, dig deep into your characters’ brains. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Until next week, happy writing.


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