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Create a 20-Sentence Outline

Page history last edited by Steve 5 years, 1 month ago

This weekend I'm going to start trying to outline one of the new movies in 20 sentences. It's an arbitrary constraint, but one that I think focuses the process down into an achievable bit.

The idea is that each sentence describes a sequence in the film.

1. Using my Brainstorming 20 ideas (B20) technique, I'll come up with a whole list of ideas for plot directions. Some of which, I assume, will be incompatible.

  • Who is this episode/script about? What's the worst thing that could happen to them in this situation?
  • What is this episode about? What's the worst thing that could happen?
  • How do the characters feel about what's going on?
  • What's the natural thing each character would do in this situation? What's the natural consequence of that action/reaction?
  • What's the worst thing each character would do in this situation? What's the natural consequence of that action/reaction?
  • Why is this happening? What would each character do about that?
  • How does each character's Issue provoke a bad reaction to this situation? 
  • How does each character's age, relationships, job/economic status, social status, personality, etc affect the situation or provoke a bad reaction from others?
  • Who has a motivation to oppose people or cause problems? What's the least they will they do? How far would they be prepared to go?

2. Arrange those ideas into a rough order, read through them, and figure out where the story goes off the beam.

3. B20 another lot of ideas for that juncture

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, all the while capturing all of the other plot ideas and character insights that come out of doing this.


Brainstorm till you're out of inspiration, then process the results. 'Processing' in this case means taking all the ideas about characters, transferring it to their sheets, and scratching them off the
brainstorming list.

I can take all the plot ideas and transfer them into three separate columns - Beginning, Middle, and End (or as I call them, A, B, and C).

For me, it's important to process this list while I'm still in the moment. For some reason, I find it more difficult to read once I've left it for a while. Perhaps it's because it's impossible to capture
the full implications of an idea just by jotting it down on the page in a single sentence - leaving it for a while means those representations of your ideas become less alive to me.


A second discovery is that outlining like this makes it possible to overview the whole story, which makes it easy to view the story from each main character's POV in turn - something that can take hours if you're doing it at a fully-written script level.




Keep a list of all the possible outcomes that emerge from the storyline.


Is there a natural MID-POINT: something that seems as bad as possible for the protagonists.


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