While searching through my computer files, I stumbled across clips from the electronic press kit for my upcoming horror flick HOUSE AT THE END OF THE DRIVE. They're good for a laugh, so feel free to check 'em out...if you dare.

"House at the End of the Drive" EPK!

The Outlining Process (part 1)...

For most of us, outlining is a very important part of the screenwriting process. But there’s always quite a bit of debate regarding how involved an outline should be. Some writers prefer simple bullet points, while others want their outlines to be more in-depth. Some outlines can be a page or two; some can be in the 30-40-page range. Personally, I feel the more in-depth the outline, the easier it is to eventually get your story laid out in a cohesive form. After all, it’s not just a matter of determining what happens first, second, third, etc., it’s also important to determine some of the details that make up your characters, their setting, and bits and pieces of the plot that push your story forward. Knowing these things can help you determine if your story is working or not – and they will help you to see the movie that's playing in your mind. So let’s now take a look at two different types of outlines.

The Bullet Point Outline

This type of outline briefly touches on what each scene is about. No detail, just the bare bones. For instance:

1). Joe arrives home from work. He finds his wife’s dead body in the bedroom. She’s been killed!

2). Joe is interviewed by a police detective.

3). A week later, Joe is back at work; he can barely get through the day.

4). After work, Joe goes to a neighborhood bar and has had a bit too much to drink. He meets Carla, an attractive young lady.

5). Joe takes Carla back to his place and they “have a good time.”

6). The next morning, Joe wakes up…and discovers Carla’s dead body in bed beside him. She’s been killed!

OK, this seems like a pretty decent start. It’s a solid “bullet point” description of what happens during the first act of the screenplay. But…you’ve really only uncovered the tip of the iceberg when you plot out your scenes in this manner. As you write the script, you’ll inevitably ask yourself some important questions, and it’s best to get these questions answered while you can still easily make changes.

So let's go through these bullet points and ask ourselves some questions, shall we?

1). Joe arrives home from work. He finds his wife’s dead body in the bedroom. She’s been killed.

First of all, do you really want to start the story with Joe arriving at home? Actually, it might be a good idea to establish what Joe’s typical day is like. So, you might want to spend a brief amount of time with him at work. OK, so what kind of work does he do? Blue collar? White collar? Is he the top dog at a big company? Does he have a crummy cubicle? What’s his mood at work? Is he happy and enthusiastic? Is he bored and can’t wait to go home at the end of the day? Does he keep to himself? Is he friendly with co-workers?

Then what kind of house is Joe arriving at? Is it located in a low-income neighborhood? Is it a pricey neighborhood? What type of house is it? Is it an old-style cottage with a Spanish tile roof? Is it a Craftsman house? Is it a rambling ranch-style house? Is it a large Colonial? Establishing these things help you define who your characters are.

Also, what type of car is Joe driving? Is he driving an inexpensive Ford or a brand new SUV? Or is a Mercedes more Joe’s style? Again, knowing some of these details helps define who Joe is and what his world is all about.

When Joe comes into the house, what does he do? Does he come home with a bouquet of flowers and immediately try to locate his wife? If he does, we can assume he’s eager to see her. Does he simply just call out, “I’m home,” then immediately go to the refrigerator, grab a beer, and go to the den to play a video game? By doing this, we assume that perhaps his relationship with his wife ain’t so great. Then perhaps we dissolve to later and Joe realizes that he hasn’t seen his wife since he’s been home. Now he’s wondering where she is. So he gets up off the couch and goes looking for her. Then he finds her in the bedroom, very much dead. But…how was she killed? Was she stabbed? Was she shot? Was she strangled? The manner of her death will certainly be of importance later in the story.

2). Joe is interviewed by a police detective.

Great. So what are some questions the detective might ask? And what is Joe’s demeanor? Is he sad? Does he stare into space and barely get his words out? Does he talk about how his wife had no enemies and that nothing was stolen from the house?

3). A week later, Joe is back at work; he can barely get through the day.

While at work, what’s Joe’s mood? Sure, he’s depressed, but does he show this to his co-workers? Maybe he’s putting on a brave front. Do we introduce another character here – or reintroduce one from the opening office scene? Perhaps this character becomes more important as the story progresses (i.e., he was having an affair with Joe’s wife).

4). After work, Joe goes to a neighborhood bar and has had a bit too much to drink. He meets Carla, an attractive young lady.

After work, Joe goes to a bar and meets Carla. What kind of bar is it? A dive bar? A classy bar? Does Joe drink hard liquor or a couple of beers? Does Carla make the fist move or does Joe? Is Carla a “nice” married girl in town for a convention and looking for a fun, one night thing, or is she a high-priced (or low-priced) call girl?

5). Joe takes Carla back to his place and they “have a good time.”
Joe returns home with Carla and they have sex. Does Carla drive herself to Joe’s, or does Joe bring her in his car? (This seemingly minor detail could become an important plot point later in the script.)

6). The next morning, Joe wakes up…and discovers Carla’s dead body in bed beside him. She’s been killed!

Joe wakes up the next morning and Carla is there beside him...dead. Was she killed in the same manner the wife was killed? Is a murder weapon there? Does Joe call the police right away? Does he call his lawyer first? Are there clues in the room that tell us perhaps Joe is the killer?

By asking questions – by digging deeper into your scenes – you are better able to map out the direction your screenplay takes.

In one of my upcoming blogs, I will provide an example of an In-Depth Outline for these scenes.


APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.com and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)

Only in Hollywood...

In a previous blog, I discussed the “creative vibe” I get from living in Los Angeles. Well, I was at one of my favorite Starbucks yesterday – which happens to be a stone’s thrown from three huge movie studios. I sat at my favorite table and got to work on a polish of a script I’m turning in this week. During the 90 minutes or so I was there, here’s who some of my neighbors were:

Two tables over, a gorgeous young lady was typing away on her laptop. She could have been an actress or a model. But no, I noticed she was working on a screenplay. I almost felt like going over and asking, “So, how ‘bout a collaboration?” Um, probably best that I didn’t.

(This reminds me of another gorgeous woman I sat next to a few weeks ago. Wow, what a knockout. Perfect hair and makeup, cute dress, high heels. She was diligently working on her laptop and gabbing on her cell phone. I figured she was just another actress. Nope, turns out she was…a stuntwoman. A stuntwoman?! Funny, I don’t recall ever working with a stunt person who looked like that!!)

At another table, a heavy-set guy was on his laptop, also working on a screenplay. He didn’t look so happy, so I stayed away from him.

Then there was a guy standing in line. He wore nice slacks and a button down dress shirt. He was on his cell phone, talking to someone about a production meeting he just came out of.

A thirty-something fella in shorts and t-shirt came in with his beautiful little daughter. He was also on his cell phone, talking to someone about CGI for a movie he was working on.

At the table right in front of me were two middle-aged women – who looked like they belonged on a Midwest bowling league – were talking about Soduko puzzles one minute; and the next minute, a screenplay one of them had recently read. Go figure.

At the table in front of me, actor Sam Anderson, from the TV show “Lost,” was talking with a woman about some behind-the-scenes dirt. I don’t dare repeat any of it here. By the way, I should point out that I don’t know who Mr. Anderson is and I’ve never seen “Lost.” I only know it was him because he kept talking about his show, then someone came up and said, “Hey, Sam!” I had to look him up on the Net to verify it was indeed him.

So, not a bad “creative vibe,” eh? The best part…with all this activity going on, I still managed to get most of that polish done on my script!

Visit me at http://www.theworkingscreenwriter.com/ -- a site for the pre-pro screenwriter!

If it don’t belong, it’s outta there!

A famous filmmaker – I think it was Steven Spielberg – once said, “When in doubt, cut it out.” When it comes to writing a screenplay, truer words were never spoken. A lot of budding writers I meet tell me about the agonies of having to cut scenes from their scripts. They’ll tell me, “It just wasn’t working.” Ah yes, the ol’ “kill you darlings” dilemma. I’ll tell ya, I definitely faced this problem with my early scripts. Nowadays, if I write a scene, 99% of the time it belongs in the script. Sure, perhaps I’ll trim or embellish a bit, or add or delete some dialogue, but the scene needs to be there. But the ability to know whether or not a scene is working comes with experience. Lots of experience. I’m willing to bet most of you don’t have several years of experience – and several scripts – under your belt. Perhaps you’ve only written a screenplay or two. OK, so how do you know if a scene is truly integral to your script? First, a quick test:

Spot the incongruous scene…

a). Indiana Jones trudges through the jungle.
b). Indiana Jones finds the cave entrance.
c). Indiana Jones ventures forth into the cave.
d). Indiana Jones stops at a concession stand and picks up a Slushee and a bag of popcorn.
e). Indiana Jones finds the Golden Idol.

Hold it, back up. Do we really need to see Indiana Jones stop at the concession stand? No, of course not. I know, this is a really silly example, but I’m just trying to make a point here. If a scene has no real purpose…if it doesn’t push the story, plot and/or character development in a forward direction, then it needs to be cut. But you’ll plead, “I like the Slushee scene! It’s funny!” Perhaps, but it doesn’t belong. It brings the momentum of this exciting sequence to a complete dead stop.

Trust me when I tell you that a vast majority of novice screenwriters tend to have Diarrhea of the Imagination. They come up with all these “great” ideas and feel compelled to put all of them into their script. Big mistake. I’ve read scenes where this happens, that happens, this is said, that is said…but none of it really pushes the story, plot, and/or character development in a forward direction. Many times I’ve stopped reading a script, stared blankly at the page and thought, “Why is this &#$% scene here?” You must learn to pick and chose what goes into your script. You need to develop…

Your Own Personal Barometer

To determine whether a scene belongs in one of my scripts, this is what I’ll ask myself as I write:

a). Am I actually looking forward to writing this scene?
b). Are the words “flowing” out of me as I write this scene?

If I’m finding it necessary to force the words out, if I’m having trouble just getting through the scene, then I know what I’m writing is false. This is when I stop and rethink what it is I’m trying to accomplish with the scene. But eventually it all comes down to a gut reaction. Does the scene feel right? It’s like going out on that first date – either it’s working for you or it’s not. If it’s not, it’s a swift “Bye-bye, scene.” Don't worry, this gut reaction is something you will develop after time. Hopefully.

“Aw, ya mean I gotta cut all those pages??!!”

Most neophyte screenwriters hate the idea of writing things that will eventually be cut from their script. All I have to say is…don’t fret over writing pages and pages of “useless garbage.” Whether you know it or not, those pages probably aren’t as useless as you think. Remember two very important axioms: Sometimes you have to write the bad stuff to get to the good stuff and Writing is rewriting. Both are very true. I suggest you write both of those down and tape ‘em above your writing space. So go ahead, crank out some bad scenes and some bad dialogue, then rethink, revamp, revise…and you might discover your own personal Golden Idol.