Everyone gets writer’s block. But this simple trick I learned from a friend helped me not to lose a day.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all about writing. In fact, over the past few years I’ve felt that I’ve probably learned even more than I’ve taught. One of the main reasons I learned so much was because I spent a lot of time moving from writing features, my usual medium, to writing television. Things are very different on television. And I think smarter sometimes.
I was developing a show with a veteran TV writer last year and we were working on a draft. Now whenever I write a feature film, I write an outline or even a treatment like we have here at No Film School. Then from that document I look back and forth at the scripting software I have open and hope the scenes come up.
My buddy saw me doing it and said, “What if you get stuck?” And I mentioned that I go for a lot of walks …
He had a much better solution.
For television, he (and most of the shows he’s worked on) creates outlines that are made up of all of the scene headings for an episode, in the order they happen. So you would look like this …
EXT. FIELD – NIGHT
FRED (10) is running through the corn stalks and playing hide and seek with the other children in the neighborhood when he is suddenly all alone. find yourself in the middle of an upper circle. Then he is beamed into the ship.
INT. SPACESHIP – NIGHT
It’s a clear white void. Fred meets the ALIENS and receives the meaning of life.
INT. CLASSROOM – DAY
Ten years later. The elder Fred is now teaching a lot of professors and world leaders about the meaning of life, he is considered a spiritual guru, but we learn that he has never told anyone about the aliens.
These scene headings and brief descriptions continue from the beginning to the end of the episode. On a television show, you turn those outlines into the studio for notes, and they’ll break and break in the room before you head off to write. There are also clearly marked act pauses so we know when to skip over.
And I looked at this and thought I should do this for my functions.
It’s a great tool for telling people what is going on in the story. There is almost no dialogue, but if you have a punchy line or a great zinger you can put that in there too.
I’m here to tell you that they are going to change the way you write features. Not only can you watch the entire movie, but you can add scene headings for the things you think are missing, like a B-plot or even the setup or connection scenes. You can see the entire movie in just a few pages, then take your time to expand and refine it.
Now, you don’t have to do this for the entire outline if you want to. You can write your scenes and see how it goes. But if you’re struggling, try just writing the scene headings.
You can stop writing entire scenes and just sit there and make the headlines think about what happens next without lifting all the dialogue hard. When you get back to the draft updated, return to these scene headings and start filling them in.
Suddenly you will increase your output and take away the fear of writing. You will know what happens next, and that is every writer’s burden.
Now it’s just a matter of doing well!
So try it out and write me your opinion in the comments.