Okay so just by writing that title it occurs to me not everyone does an outline. There are a lot of different ways to approach writing and some script writers just don't like or do outlines. And full disclosure, I have written successful scripts without them. But if you have a complex story, are juggling many plot lines, and let's face it, if it's a screenplay, when you skip the outline, you run the risk of writing a 250 page or a 30 page script. Or you quit. Which sucks. It just does -- you had that spark, that good idea, you were all excited, but then you just dove in without thinking. It's like jumping off a diving board into a pool that doesn't have enough water. Head first.
"BUT THE WATER WAS SO BLUE!"
Uh huh. Very smart, Maria, very smart.
Not only do I recommend writing an outline, but then when you're in script, I recommend doing everything you can to adhere to it. I love freedom in writing of course, and new ideas can and do arise as you're in script, but if you've really done your job in constructing a solid blueprint that means you have thought a lot about the different reasons to put this story point in this particular place, etc. You may not remember all the logic that went into your outline when you're in the script but your former self, while writing the outline, wasn't in the glamor-part of writing but was instead doing the heavy lifting; the heavy lifting of thinking.
Scriptwriting is usually the fun "glamor part." The outline is the blue collar job. It's the foundation. The hard stuff. The unromantic, thinky, logic part. It's also the shit that makes the script job run smoothly. Imagine building a building without a blueprint. Super obvi analogy but it works.
In my humble opinion, outlines are essential. It's the time you've dedicated to thinking through story, characters, tone, every possible turn and twist, while also, making sure you're pinpointing what needs to be there at that moment and why, so that the story moves forward and that people who are reading what you've written (and ultimately watching it) stay engaged.
My advice doesn't mean divine inspiration shouldn't be heard when in script. But think before you do. If I decide to put in new material, which of course happens and should and is welcome, it's with real acknowledgement of what happened before the sparkly new idea. How does the sparkly new idea affect my outline? Can I recall the reason the outline was as it was before adding the new element to the script? What are the future ramifications, ultimately meaning, if said new sparkly idea gets in is there a domino effect? Is it not only worth it, does it make it better?
Adhering to the outline means cooler heads prevail. It's your head and it's cool.
I used to teach a class in this stuff and lately I've realized oh my God, what I told those students wasn't just b.s. I'm sticking to my outline like glue and I'm having forward momentum. I want that for you, too.
Writer, Writing Coach, Writer Supporter.