The Clearest Guide to Outlining for TV Writers Since the Last Clearest Guide

JK Rowlings’ outline for some book she wrote about a kid named Harry Potter

There’s an awful lot of “How To Write A Good Outline” info out there, not only on the web but also in books. The section on outlining in our very own LB’s Television Writing from the Inside Out comes to mind. But until we can get him to condense the info and put it on this site, here’s what we believe to be the next best thing:

How To Save Tons Of Writing Time – By Using A Complete Outline – by Marina Brito

A few months ago, it was the Christmas season and I was out shopping for Christmas presents for my family.   I found my shopping trips to be inefficient, long-drawn, and incredibly frustrating. So much for the Christmas spirit!

But why did shopping have to be so frustrating? I realized that it was because I hadn’t planned it ahead of time and I had to figure out what to buy on the fly.

This frustration while shopping reminded me of my frustration while article-writing

My article-writing was also inefficient and long-drawn.   Just like my shopping, it was not planned ahead of time and I had to figure out what to write on the fly.

But I was in the practice of outlining my articles. So why was I still struggling?

I struggled because I often sat down to write my articles with a half-outline.  What do I mean by a “half-outline”?

A half-outline is one which only has questions in it

The questions that I’m talking about are the ones that I use to construct my outline such as: “how”, “why” and “what”.  I can also have other points that I want to cover in my article, but in a half-outline they’re just a list of points to cover.

The problem with the half-outline is that there are no answers to go with the questions or the points.  And that’s why I practically had to write every article on the fly and it was such a long-drawn and frustrating experience.

Fortunately, I found a solution:

The solution is to have a complete outline

A complete outline adds answers to the questions and to the points in the half-outline.  This is probably easier to understand through an example:

Let’s see how to use the complete outline on an article

Read it all

And when you do continue reading, be sure and mentally substitute “Teleplay” for article so you can properly welcome the epiphany to come.

Watch This Deleted Scene From LOUIE

…Because we can learn just as much about television production (and writing) by knowing what the geniuses don’t use as well as what they do:

We don’t know what episode this was intended for, but don’t you think that a 2-minute version, or two 2-minute pieces as a frame for the rest of a show, would have been awesome?

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Having just watched the LOUIE episode in which Louie apologizes to Marc Maron for ruining their friendship 10 years earlier, I’m thinking this scene would have fitted in nicely with both the theme and the format of this particular half-hour: Separate vignettes. If the material was shot for that episode I can also see why it was cut: No room.

StoryBundle Looks Interesting

A good thing for readers, no doubt. And for writers? For new ones, yes. Another interesting way to get your work out there and have your eBooks discovered. What are we talking about? Here’s what the site itself has to say:

 StoryBundle is a way for people who love to read to discover quality indie books written by indie authors. You know how it’s always hard to find something good to read? StoryBundle hopes to solve that.

We take a handful of books—usually about five or so—and group them together to offer as a bundle. Then you, the reader, can take a look at the titles we’ve chosen and decide how much you’d like to pay. Think of us like a friend that scours independent books for undiscovered gems, then bundles these titles together for one low price that you decide. Yeah, we mean it; you get to set the price that you want to pay!

…There are a fixed set of books that we offer in a bundle, and each bundle is available only for a limited time. If you miss out on the bundle, you’ll have to buy the books individually from each author. We only have one bundle on sale at a time, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Again, one of the central concepts is that you get to decide how much each bundle is worth to you. Think each individual book in a bundle of five books is worth $2? That’s fine! Pay $10 and get five books! Only think they’re worth $1 because you’re not sure if you like a certain genre? That’s fine too. If you want to reward these authors and encourage more independent writers by giving a bit more, that’s fantastic as well. One reason we started StoryBundle is because indie authors need our support, and we want to do our part in showcasing awesome writers.

Read it all

This all sounds pretty cool, although if we signed up as buyers we’d probably choose to pay only pennies, if anything, because that’s how we roll we’re starving writers ourselves. Although if we stuck around we’d probably cough up a few more shekels because of, you know, that little thing our mothers gave us, i.e., “guilt.”

Which brings us to the most important bit for writers:

I’ve written a book! Can you feature my book in a future bundle?

We’re always in search of awesome indie books, so we’re interested in checking out your work. If you’re an author, email us at

If we’d finished our book we’d definitely include StoryBundle among the places we annoyed with submissions. Since we haven’t, we’re hoping that one of you reading this will do it instead…and keep us posted on how it turns out.

Good luck!

Guilt & Loathing For Writers

…The guilt being how terrible we feel because we’re not using our time properly and, you know, writing. Because writing is so much more important – to us anyway – than getting a job, loving our spouses, and/or taking out the garbage.

The loathing being self-loathing. Because, let’s face it, how can you not hate yourself for:

  1. Not writing
  2. Believing for one instant that said writing is more important than loving our spouses (although it just may outweigh getting a job and/or taking out the garbage

Bottom line: This stuff is tough to deal with. And considering how hard everything else already is, why have guilt and self-loathing on our minds? Gotta get rid of it, you know. Open ourselves up, let the voices in our heads get down into our hands and clickety-clack on our keyboards.

What’s that? You’re clueless about how to do that? About how to make time to do the thing you simply can’t live without doing? About how to feel good about yourself while doing (or not doing it)?

Our answer to this dilemma is this tip, which some may call the Secret of the Universe, but which we call “Keep Busy.”

As for how to get ourselves to keep busy, ah, have no fear, Scott Hanselman, who describes himself as, “a former professor…now a Microsoft employee…[and] a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author” has what turns out to be a remarkably good answer (even for non-writers):

Productivity vs. Guilt and Self-Loathing – by Scott Hanselman

The not getting stuff done sucks, but the guilt and self-loathing is where you really get into trouble. You likely don’t say it out loud, but you think it. You might not tell your spouse, but you think it. I suck. Man, I suck. I’m just not getting a damn thing done…

Here’s what I do when I’m feeling non-productive and guilty. Again, watch the video for more details, it’s not selling anything and I go into more detail. I need to just write a small book on this.

  • Stop Checking Email in the Morning
  • If it’s important, Schedule It
  • Measure, then Cut
  • Do smaller things
  • Let go of Psychic Weight
  • Schedule Work Sprints
  • Stop Beating Yourself Up

Read it all

LB: Dictation, Not Siri, is the Bane of Writers

by Larry Brody

Just ran across this at The Atlantic.Com and it did something that becomes more difficult each day. It made me think and, better yet considering my chosen, much-loved profession, it made me write:

Siri, Take This Down: Will Voice Control Shape Our Writing? – by Robert Rosenberger

Do our writing means change our written ends?

In the future, you will talk to your computer. Voice, the predominant mode of human-to-human communication, has been migrating to silicon for more than a decade and is now poised to hit the mainstream.

Already, voice interfaces have become commonplace in the telephone customer-service industry, have long been of assistance to the blind, and are increasingly used by doctors for transcribing patient information. Even your less-tech-savvy relatives may have seen, for example, the recent profileof Nuance Communications in the New York Times. Nuance is the big fish in the small pond of dictation programming development, and the force behind Dragon, the highly-regarded though still expensive dictation-software package, as well as Siri, the iPhone 4S personal-assistant application, and the Ford “Sync” system’s voice-command interface.  Google’s concept video for “Project Glass” includes voice-to-text translation.

So it seems as though our voices may some day displace our keyboards and mice as the primary means through which we manipulate our computing devices. But while to command by voice is one thing, to write by voice is another, and the question remains whether — or how — this shift in technology will shape the words we “pen.”

Read it all

The question asked here is a good one, and the story of the evolution of writing instruments from pens to mobile phones is worth reading.

But I can answer the question without going into history, culture, technology, or philosophy because during my career as a writer, producer, and occasionally editor I’ve used, or worked with other writers, who’ve used every writing mode possible. And because of that I’ve become pretty good at spotting what most writers are using to get their words out because there definitely is a difference in the writing.

Writers who write on yellow pads and give the result to an assistant to type usually are satisfied with the first phrasing/dialog that comes to mind…because erasing or crossing out or otherwise changing what’s there on the pad is so inconvenient. The result is that, in the case of a television script, their officially delivered first drafts are not nearly as clever or polished as they could be.

Writers who write with typewriters tend to be more careful, but they still end up accepting less original language…usually in the second half of the script, when they’ve gotten tired of all the retyping and given up revising anything but a word or two at a time.

Writers who write with computers – and screenplay formatting software – are most apt to have everything looking perfect, giving the reader the sense of, “Oh boy! A script!” and their work tends to be tighter and more thought out than anyone else’s because making changes is so easy.

As for Siri, well, I don’t think we’re there yet, but “Dragon Naturally Speaking has been around for almost two decades, and it’s always easy to spot those who use it or a similar program: Line after line of alphabet soup AKA typo city, even in the most carefully proofread drafts.

Of course, speech recognition software isn’t the only way for writers to work without having to actually write down the words. Dictation has been with us since the first scribe, and while I don’t want to comment on the literary merits of, say, the Bible, or medieval illuminated manuscripts, I can say without qualification that in my experience the award for “Least Carefully Thought Out and Disjointed Teleplay” goes to the writers who thrill to the sound of their own voices as they yak, yak, yak their scripts to death. This is the crowd that weaves in and out of story, scene, character, and dialog without ever realizing their work has totally lost whatever focus it began with.

And it’s even worse if the writer has any condition even vaguely resembling ADHD.

My advice: Stay away from dictation in all its forms. Ditto writing by hand (or thumb). If you want to write something worthwhile the very least you should do is: