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Friday, November 18, 2011

Outlines

So, once you've managed to get yourself into a state where your beat sheet looks like it makes sense, like it'll hold together as a story, that's when you can start to take things to the next level:

Start building a story.

Now, when you're sent off to put together a proper outline, it's something that tends to take a few weeks.  From my experience, most of that time is a bit like playing Tetris with your story, finding the right way to fit the right pieces into the right order so that the larger story you want to tell, well, is actually the best possible version of your story.

Usually the first thing I'll do is go into my beat sheet and, simply, expand each point from one sentence into a paragraph.  At this point there's really nothing complicated about what I'm doing, it's all a matter of figuring out the best way to approach this story, looking for ideas or concepts that I may have missed when I was looking at it from the angle of a 'beat sheet'.

So, for example:

-> Doctor Who Arrives

What would I do with that?

Well, one option would be to take it to something like this:

The Doctor decides to take his companions on a trip.  Some place warm, relaxing.  He envisions wandering with them amongst the prismatic markets of the Gamma Nectaris cluster or floating on the prismatic seas of the cloudkin race.  He sets the destination, practically crackling with anticipation. As the TARDIS arrives, he proudly throws open the doors to reveal: flat, barren land as far as the eye can see.  Dust devils swirling in the distance.

Great! Progress, right?  But in adding all this extra detail, now I've gone and given myself my first significant story problem:  The Doctor hasn't arrived where he intended - why doesn't he just shut the doors and try again?

Especially problematic when my next point is:

--> Get Caught In A Dust Storm

So, not only do I need to find a way to get them to stay, I need to find a way to get the Doctor and his companions outside of the TARDIS - and far enough away from it - so that I can get them trapped in a dust storm.

And now you see how quickly this simple task can get very complicated.  Every new addition creates a ripple, or a new idea, or an offshoot of an existing idea -- or a game-changing concept.

The simplest way to get them out of the TARDIS is to say, quite simply, that the TARDIS refuses to budge.

Of course this is also, by far, the weakest approach.  It's also known as the 'Because I Say So!' approach.  Not a very convincing way to start a story.

So, now, I can choose one of two other options: Redefine how I start the story -- make it so that this is EXACTLY where they wanted to end up (doubtful) or give them something worth investigating.  If there's one thing we know about the Doctor it's that he loves to investigate, right?  So, there's a start -- at least for now.  It could be this simple but later on, farther into our story, we find a more plausible, more interesting reason to get them out of the TARDIS.  That's great when and if that happens, but for now, let's give them something 'shiny' off in the distance.

Okay, so let's add:

... as the TARDIS arrives, he proudly throws open the doors to reveal: flat, barren land as far as the eye can see.  Dust devils swirling in the distance.  The Doctor realizes that this is obviously NOT the right place, is about to close the doors and head off again except for that shiny thing.  The small shiny thing just on the horizon.  The small, oddly-shaped shiny thing just on the horizon that one could just quickly check out and then be on their way.

And so they're off.

Is it 'better' than "Because I Said So"?  Marginally.  Is it the best possible start?  Probably not.

That said, I probably won't know the absolutely best possible start until I get to the end.

So, for now, good enough.  Off to the horizon they go.

But now I've given myself another problem:  The shiny thing in the distance, in 1936 Dustbowl, depression-era America.  Huh.  Yeah, that could be a doozy.

Or not.

They get off a good distance toward the 'shiny' object to find a... water tower that's in particularly good and shiny repair...?

Okay, maybe not.  But it's a good idea.  Something big enough - and high enough - to be seen from that far away.

What else could it be?

UFO? (unlikely)  A barn roof?  Maybe.

See, this is why it can be so easy to lead oneself down a hole while trying to put an outline together.  Small, simple things like this can be problematic -- even worse once you've got a bunch of them all floating around at once.

That's where I'm going to leave it for now, I'll play around with this a bit on the weekend and have some more to say on Monday.

But for now, yeah, outlines... not always fun.

Cheers,
Brandon

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