Peggy Bechko Outlines Her Thoughts On Outlines


by Peggy Bechko

Okay, so not the kind of outline Peggy’s talking about…but still an outline, yes?

Don’t run away – I’m not going to tell you to outline or not to outline. I just going to talk a bit about my writing process and you can take from it what you may.

Many writing ‘instructors,’ whether they be talking about novels or scripts, will tell you it’s a must to outline or to create a beatsheet or whatever. With writing, nothing is really a must. It’s how you do it and what works for you.

The outline process works great for many writers. A detailed sketch of where a story is going. And, admittedly, it is a good place to stash all sorts of notes regarding characters, plot and background.

For me it’s more of a note-taking, jotting down affair. Then it’s a follow the character ride.

The first novel I had published with Doubleday had no outline at all. The story was in my head and I just wrote it. I’d jot a few notes as I moved through the story so I’d remember who had a mustache or who was very tall and thin, etc., but no outline. Not much editing when I was done either.

Back then I didn’t know what I “had” to do to write a novel, I just did it. Still do.

However, now, with experience in writing several areas I do tend to outline a bit – just a skeleton of where I’m going. I still do the note jotting as I move through the story.

I’ve used a finished script as an outline to write a novel, putting the script up on Word, then working with it, filling out the characters, putting their thoughts on paper (which of course we can’t do in a script), adding background and writing the whole novel that way. Of course I keep a clean copy of the original script as reference.

And I’ve done the reverse, taking a novel, throwing it up on split screen and using it as an outline for a script.

Creating a script from a novel is more difficult since we have to reduce the wordage dramatically and add slug lines and all. What starts out as perhaps a 300 page novel must reduce down to about 120 pages of script (even better if a bit less).

Yet with that novel up on the screen it just felt easy to create a script from it. Some things had to go. Some things needed to be added, changed, morphed into something more cinematic.

With the novel open in Word and the new script open in Screenwriter it was fun to bounce back and forth and create the script. The script was optioned, but not produced, but hey, I’m not complaining.

The bottom line about outlines is, use them as you need them. And do it the ‘proper’ way or devise your own way, whichever works for you.

You may end up working backwards at times if you’ve written a script on the fly and then discover you need a beatsheet as a leavebehind when you’re marketing or for some other reason. But working in that sort of ‘reverse’ isn’t difficult, and at times it can give the writer insight into their script and bring positive revision ideas.

Don’t let anyone tell you as a writer that you MUST do something in a certain way. Your writing is your own. The rest of the MUSTs come later, when adhering to writer’s guidelines in your quest for a sale.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.