If you’re not running your writing with an outline, you’re either a genius talent or a lazy bastard… either way, I don’t like you.
You probably didn’t even bother to read my article Outline Basics. Shame, shame, shame, I know your name.
For the rest of us hard-working mortals, outlining is a critical step in the creative process. As I discuss in the above article (and Storycraft for Comics) outlines arrive first, in the simplified Skeletal form (basically a beat sheet) and second, in a more Comprehensive long form.
Since Skeletal outlines are fundamentally shorthand notes, there’s not too much to go over there as far as how you put down your details (the structural points themselves are the important part—different conversation)… but when you move into Comprehensive outlining… it’s crucial to work efficiently.
A cumbersome comprehensive outline, can quickly turn into an unwieldy document and make your life much more difficult than it should be.
To keep your Comp Outlines on point, keep the following categories of detail in mind:
- Outline Level Details. (points that need further elaboration when scripted)
- Script Level Details. (points that can be directly set into the final script)
- Superfluous Details. (points that don’t appear in the script)
- Backstory Details. (points that don’t appear directly in the script)
If you suffer from ADD and can’t continue to read, here’s the Cliffsnotes—use Script Level Details as little as possible and Superfluous details even less.
I’ll use “Robot Kids” the (deliberately badly titled) sample story and outline from Storycraft for Comics as an example.
In the skeletal outline for Robot Kids, I have the Inciting Decision structural point listed as simply “Molly saves Kai.”
For the purpose of a Skeletal Outline, no further detail is relevant to structuring the story. To understand the story, we don’t need to know how Molly does it… The key point (at that point in the creative process) is that we know the one main character saves the other. This is an Outline Level Detail (or more simply put, a basic concept beat).
Now when I build out the Skeletal Outline to the Comprehensive Outline, I might turn “Molly saves Kai” into:
“The cyborg cops capture Kai, restrain him and load him into a transport truck. Enroute to Central City, Molly intercepts the truck on her hover-cycle. Using her bionic gadgets and the help of Iblii, her mutant flying squirrel, she disables the truck and frees Kai. Together they flee into the toxic swamp where the cyborg cop pursuers refuse to give chase.”
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