When we discussed this before, I wasn’t sure whether or not writing outlines should count towards daily writing goals, but now...
it was with screenwriting. During
the spec script bubble of the early ‘90s, studios lost their heads. They were overpaying for scripts, and
even paying princely sums for movies that hadn’t been written. In the most infamous example, Joe
Eszterhas scribbled a pitch on the back of a napkin and sold it for four
million dollars. The movie was
called One Night Stand with Wesley Snipes. Ever see it? Me neither.
the flop of that movie and many others, studios cut their spending way
back. Soon, with a few notable
exceptions, they stopped buying pitches and returned to their previous policy
of only buying finished scripts.
To this day, screenwriters lament the end of the glory days, and await
the day when we can once again sell ideas before we write anything.
the studios are right: Pitches aren’t worth anything yet. This is actually true in a court of
law: You can’t copyright an idea.
You can only copyright the expression
of an idea. Only pages are
valuable, and that’s the way it should be.
years, whenever I would try to force myself to write everyday, I would start
out writing actual pages, but after the pages stopped flowing, I would start
writing outlines for future stories instead. What’s the difference?
It’s all writing, isn’t it?
it isn’t. Anything other than
actual pages is just pre-writing. Don’t get me wrong, outlines and treatments are very important, but you can’t confuse that
with real writing. What would inevitably happen when
I would switch to writing outlines, is that I would never want to switch back.
Pre-writing is addictive because it’s a lot more rewarding than writing pages.
Potential is always better than reality.
Before you start writing, you can say, “What’s my movie
like? Well, let me tell you: Imagine that Han Solo and Hannibal Lecter have to
team up free the guys from the Great Escape!” That sounds great! What a cool idea! Then you sit down to write it and you
realize that, unless you’re writing an especially silly (and yet awesome) piece
of fan fiction, you can’t just appropriate
the pre-existing value of those characters. Instead, you have to re-create all that value from scratch,
which is damn hard.
It’s one thing to say, “My new character is going to be like
Han Solo”! It’s entirely different
to say, “I just wrote some pages and the new character I’ve created is just as
appealing as Han Solo!” The first is worthless, the second is priceless.
yourself to stop saying “I have a
good idea for a movie!” Instead,
you should say, “I may have a good
idea for a movie.” If you think
you’ve got a good idea for movie, then find
out by writing some pages. Ideas aren’t copyrightable because they’re a dime a dozen.
An outline is just a doorway that leads you to a character. Step through it, get to know that character by writing pages of
dialogue, and then you’ll know if have something real, or just another One Night Stand.
So if you shouldn’t switch to outlines,
what should you do when the pages stop
We’ll pick up there tomorrow…