As my regular reader might know, I have been searching for a user friendly working method for a while now: loglines, synopses, outlines, treatments, I’ve done ‘em all in the vain hope that sometime something will stick.
Unfortunately, this eureka! moment has not yet happened, and I doubt it ever will, mostly because I approach each individual project from a totally different perspective. The outline for the last feature length script I wrote consisted of a diagram sketched out on a page of A4 paper (I was going to post this, but I’m scared you’ll laugh as it’s covered in smiley faces and references to Scooby Doo). To be honest, this is probably the most successful outlining tool I’ve ever used – five drafts in and, although the narrative has changed along the way, I'm still adhering to the basic structure sketched out in this document.
I find synopses useful in this respect as well – something short (two pages maximum) that outlines the major events in the narrative that leaves plenty of room for some wild ‘riffing’ along the way. I have always found treatments quite intimidating for this reason: events are mapped out in such a way as to make ‘improvisation’ seem a little out of place. The way I write is determined by accident as much as anything else, and a full blown treatment seems to squeeze all the fun out of the process somehow. And anyway, with previous treatments, I have always found that, once the treatment is ‘locked down’, an idea materialises out of nowhere that knocks the whole thing for six – the fact that I am usually three quarters of the way through writing the script at this point really does not help.
That said, I am working on a treatment for someone at the moment – well, by ‘treatment’, I mean a series of about a million ideas that will hopefully start to coalesce into something vaguely coherent in the next few weeks. The advantage to doing things this way is that a lot of ideas get ditched early on in favour of better ones, and horrible things like coincidence get put out of their misery relatively early on.
Even so, I’m a great believer in the fact that until you start writing the script itself, you have no idea how things are going to turn out. A detail that looked eminently logical in your treatment can turn out to be amazingly silly once fleshed out in script form - the solution here as far as I’m concerned is to manically write your way out of trouble. Exposition – one of my pet peeves – is also tremendously difficult to navigate around once you are in the script 'zone'. A treatment naturally tends to be heavy on exposition as this is the way you get the essential planks of your story laid down – in the script, it’s a difficult kettle of fish altogether.
Which is why I’ve always stuck to relatively simple outlines/one pagers. The current treatment is starting to make some vague sense, but there’s no substitute to actually getting stuck in and writing the damn thing.