Status Report: Outlines and the Iterative Process
Today we are kicking off a (probably biweekly) progress report of sorts. This graph shows were we are at in writing the story as well as what has been recently finished. As you can see we’ve been busy.
We’ve been thinking a lot about focusing the the story so we can get it to it’s final stage where we can’t think of anything that’s wrong with it—not to say that there won’t be of course; that’s what the test audience is for. We’ve been working hard to really nail the story down and get rid of any fluff or artifacts from previous iterations of the story. The way we’ve been working is we have the outline, a scratch pad, and the scripted version. The scratchpad is where we’ll put all of our ideas that need to be discussed, or decisions that have been made that need to be sorted into the outline. While we’ve been focusing the story over the past few months, refining the character’s conflicts and fixing things that didn’t make perfect sense, the result is that our scratchpad got pretty big and our outlines were left without the revisions.
We first started by taking those notes and putting them at the top of their respective chapter outline to be sorted later into each scene. When we hit an item that needed to be discussed in the scratchpad, we discussed it, made a decision, and then put that note at the top of that chapter’s outline.
Which brings up the question, why didn’t we just place each note exactly where it was supposed to be in the outline, or rewrite the outline so our notes were fully worked into the story? Partly because we were so busy discussing the story that we didn’t want to break our train of thought to search through and rewrite outline, but it’s probably mostly because the outlines are a bit of a mess. We’ve refined the story so much that some chapters contain completely obsolete scenes. To put it another way, it’s going to be a lot of work to fix the outlines before we can effectively use them to write the script.
We have two tasks ahead of us. First is to fix the outlines for each chapter so our notes are fully integrated into the story and ready for scriptwriting, and then the actual scriptwriting itself. Our plan is to prepare all of the outlines for each chapter before we get serious into scriptwriting again. The fear of course is that we’ll get behind our 2.5 chapters per week quota and will have a hard time pacing ourselves once the outlines are done. On the other hand, we should fix our outlines first because that will reveal any problems with the story that we haven’t found yet, which will cost us more time in the long run. On the graph however, you will see that we have finished Chapter 17 amidst the outline refinement phase, and we do want to continue scriptwriting, but with a strong focus on fixing the outlines for every chapter.
My experience with our writing process has made me think about how we could make this process easier. Is there a way that we can write our outlines that will make it easier for us to change the outline directly as soon as a decision is made? Maybe our outlines have too much information that makes this difficult? Maybe the information contained in the outline needs to be different? Perhaps something under the lines of, “This is what this character is thinking, this is what this character wants in this scene,” as opposed to, “This, this, and this happens.” My thinking behind that is when I’m writing the script I’m thinking more about “This is what this character wants,” as opposed to, “This is what is going to happen next, so fill in the gaps that will lead the scene there.” When we refine the story, we are mostly refining what the characters want, which of course changes what they do. So maybe changing how our outlines are written to better match the scriptwriting process and our overall story-writing process might be a good idea. But how will we convert that character-wants-character-does outline information into a plain-text format that will be useful for this iterative story-writing process? And will it even make a difference in speeding up the story-writing process? I’m not sure at the moment. These are interesting things to think about that will definitely be discussed during our postmortem of the project.