questionmarkI looked at your outline for Big Fish and noticed you had it broken up into acts and what happens in each act. How exactly did you know what was suppose to happen? How do you start to figure it out?

For me, I might know some of the events pretty clearly but I might not know what happens in-between. Or I might know the middle and end, but not the beginning. I find it hard to break down my story the way you do.

Sometimes when I have a scene in my head, I’ll just start writing particular scenes and then go back to figure out more of an outline. Is that wrong?

— Ian Topple
Syosset, NY

answer iconIt’s not wrong. The correct way to write your screenplay is whatever gets it written.

My original one-page outline for Big Fish is really an anomaly. I rarely go into that level of detail.

Most scripts begin more the way you describe, with a few key moments and characters that gradually chain themselves together. I’ll always have a sense of where the story is going — I can write a third-act scene before I’ve written the end of the first act — but I won’t necessarily know how I’m going to get there.

The sequence outline in the Library came after the first draft, and charted what was actually happening in the script I wrote. It was a way of seeing how the movie was dividing its time between the real world and Edward Bloom’s stories.

Don’t beat yourself up over outlines. Save the self-flagellation for the scenework.