I suck out outlines. This isn't news to anyone who has ever read my work, but allow me to elaborate. When I delve into a writing project, I often free-write through the opening chapters to get to the real good stuff. I can lay down a seriously hefty amount of wordage in a single sitting (as long as my brain and fingers hold out). However, I find that I am constantly ripping up whole sections of work after my first read-through. It's because I don't outline well. And, because I don't outline well, I rarely hit my cause and effect on the first try.
What do I mean by that?
If you're old enough to understand how to work the internet, you're old enough to understand cause and effect. You overslept, THEREFORE you were late to work. You overate, THEREFORE you got super gassy. You lied about your credentials as a scuba instructor, THEREFORE you got seven people eaten by sharks.
You get the picture. It's about action and reaction, about decisions and consequences. It is one of the most pivotal parts of telling a story, and I rarely hit it on the first try.
Consequences make drama better. You've probably heard the phrase "Raise the stakes" at least once in your Screenwriting 101 class. I heard it spoken by heavy hitters of the industry at an event with the Writers Guild Foundation back in May, and I'm ashamed to say it took me that long for it to really sink in.
I've always been told that writing an original story only really needs to cover a few basic things:
- Why is this story being told?
- Why is it so important to tell it right now?
- Why is it so important that it happens to these people?
But there is so much more that I still had to learn. Namely, how to give characters agency. Have them make decisions that drive the story, rather than letting the story drive them.
Your homework until Thursday is to watch some TV, see a movie (Wonder Woman), and read a book. Identify moments where the story controls the characters and vice versa. On Thursday, we're going to look at one of my favorite moments for both.