I'm starting up on a new project with a writing partner: our third screenplay together. This is in addition to the rewrites I'm doing on my two latest plays in order to prep them for sending out next year! The few submissions I did recently have whetted my appetite.
But back to the original thought: the screenplay. When working on a project with a collaborator, it's best to stay on the same page, to know the characters in the same ways, to hear the same voices, and to know where things are headed. Outlines are de rigueur, mandatory. Me? I'm not so much an outline kind of guy. I do outline, but not until I've gotten deeper into the script.
I start my outline with three words:
I stole this from Christopher Nolan's film, The Prestige: the magician movie that really rocks. One of the characters describes the 3 act structure of a magic trick:
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige."
The Prestige could be equated with the concept of the "Perception Shift" in theatre parlance, which is the new understanding of the play that happens in the back of the audience's mind. Where they understand what you've been doing the whole time, but in a new way. Far Away is the best example of this for me. Whenever I get stuck, I think about Far Away.
But again, I don't really do outlines until I'm in the play. For me, outlines are about rewriting, not for pre-writing. I write all the scenes I can, in whatever order I want; Joss Whedon calls it eating your dessert first. I call it the way I've always done it.
Once I get somewhere around "halfway" (I never know what length of play I'm writing), I go to my dry erase board. I list every scene that I've written, finding the order that they should go in. Sometimes it's chronological, sometimes not. This helps me look at the flow of things and find holes. What does it mean that this scene follows that scene? What would that look like? What does that mean? Do I need something else? Is it a scene or simply an added moment or image?
When I first write the scenes, I sometimes envision them in their true environments, for example, if a scene takes place on the grass at a college, I see an actual college with grass. When I start to outline, I see the scenes on a stage with lights and set and sound and audience. I see how that new theatrical space (usually a black box space, interestingly enough) influences what I've written. Is it theatrical? Does it need to change? I never ask "Is it produceable?" Maybe I should, but I don't find that particularly helpful.
How and when do you outline? Do you start with an outline? Or do you write like driving in the dark, seeing just as far as the headlights? Do you eat your dessert first?