Are You Planning Your Script?

If you’ve ever read one of the popular books on screenwriting, there’s a good chance you’re well on your way to planning your script.

Depending on which book you’ve read, you’ve probably got a logline, an outline, pages and pages of character bios, half a trillion note cards thumb-tacked to your walls, a dozen journals filled with research, notes and ideas, and maybe even a shoebox full of fabulous visual images for your story.

And yet, there’s a good chance the thought of actually writing your script still fills you with terror.  In fact, you may have even found that the more planning you’ve done, the less prepared you’ve felt to actually write your script.

index cardsMy idea isn’t good enough yet, you tell yourself.

I still have to figure out the second act, you insist.

I just need a better logline…

Etc. etc. etc.

Scripts aren’t planned.  They’re experienced.

Screenwriting is a lot like life.  If you want to make God laugh, make plans.   And if you want to get yourself blocked as a writer, try figuring out every aspect of your script before you even sit down to write it.

In our daily lives, we’re comfortable to some degree with the idea that we’ve got to depend on our instincts.  But when we’re venturing out of our comfort zone, often we forget this simple wisdom.

Our need to control takes over, and suddenly we forget that our characters are just like us, constantly reacting to a million different stimuli in ways that neither we nor they could ever have anticipated.

Rather than trusting the instincts we depend on every day to guide us where we need to go as writers, we try to take an instinctual, creative process, and make it safe and controllable.

No wonder our ideas don’t seem good enough.

No wonder our characters seem uninspired, our dialogue tight and our plotlines pre-packaged.  We’re trying to write them without experiencing them, and to understand them without getting to know them.

We come to truly understand our characters, and our stories, just like we come to understand the real people in our lives: by sharing meaningful time and experiences with them, and allowing ourselves to be surprised, delighted or even disappointed by the way they react.

In other words, we get to know our characters by writing them.

Imagining that you can map out a character’s entire story before you’ve spent this time with them is like planning a life with someone after reading their Match.com profile.  You may think you know where things are heading, but you’re probably in for some unpleasant surprises.

That doesn’t mean not having plans.  That means understanding that no matter how good your plans may be, most of what you’re going to do as a writer is still going to have to be instinctual.

As soon as you sit down to write your characters, they’re going to rebel against your plans for them, dragging you in all kinds of directions that don’t even begin to fit your outline.

Force them to stay on the path, and inspiration goes out the window.  But allow them to take you on a journey, and you’ll find they lead you to inspiration you could never have anticipated.

So how do you balance your need to follow your characters, with your bigger goals as a writer, like creating a marketable screenplay that fits the demands of a competitive industry? 

That’s the subject of my new webinar for The Writer’s Store:

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One thought on “Are You Planning Your Script?

  1. cphillips103

    Smart advice as always, Jacob. Creating the outline and the logline is to put your characters in difficult situations where they need to make near impossible decisions. Who they are as individuals determines how they will react, not their resume.

    It’s more important for a writer to feel and understand their characters, not worry about dossiers.

    -Christopher Phillips

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