I’m a 28-year old writer with a very old problem. I do my best work when I’m not consciously structuring a screenplay. I’ve found trying to shuffle scenes around on note cards about as useful as trying to construct a meaningful sentence out of syllables. So I’m reluctant to embrace a fully plotted mode of writing.
First off, apologies to Zackery for editing his question down so much. The original was filled with a lot of other good observations and side-questions, but ran longer than my whole weekly column. And in cutting it down, I was doing exactly the kind of work Zackery is struggling against.
Structure isn’t really about tacking notecards on a wall. It’s about organizing ideas — sequences, scenes, and beats within those scenes — so that they can have the most possible impact. You don’t just create structure before you write. It happens inevitably with every character who walks in the door, or takes an action that spins the story in a different direction.
I doubt there are any working screenwriters who would say they’ve adopted a "fully plotted mode of writing." Whatever plan you’ve made for the movie, be it notecards, an outline or just an idea in your head, it’s always subject to change based on discoveries you make while you’re writing.
You’re beating yourself up over not plotting out your whole script beat-for-beat. Guess what? You don’t have to. For now, just write the best scenes you can, keeping in mind that they may need to be changed or cut to service the movie as a whole.
The best thing about fighting with yourself is that when you give up, you win.