Most new writers we meet agree on a couple of things: The importance of getting an agent and their complete lack of interest in writing outlines. Comedy writing and directing superstar Ken Levine is here to refute at least one of those outlooks:
by Ken Levine
…From Chad: My question is about crafting and selling scripts. You mention that story credit goes to the person who submits the episode outline. I realize this is a necessary part of the process in getting each story told…but I’m not really an outline kind of writer. I jot down some relevant notes/lines/jokes and then head into the first draft, which is where the story really takes shape. Writing the entire story in advance always throws me off because I know that when I get in the groove, it’s gonna shift directions easily. So the basic question is, is this practice frowned upon and if so what’s your advice on how to amend it?
Chad (or whoever you are) – how can I say this nicely? If you want a career writing for television throw out that shit and become an “outline kind of writer”. Outlines are mandatory.
Let me walk you through the process.
First off, you only have a limited amount of time to tell your story. And you have to tell another story next week. And the week after, and the week after that. You have no time for seeing where the Muse might want to take you.
TV episodes are highly structured. As a showrunner, this is my method and thinking:
Working with the staff, we arrive at a notion we feel would make a good story. We then construct the beats – usually not in a linear way (first this happens, then this, then this, then that, the end). I want to know the act breaks first. I want to know the ending. I want to know where the fun of the story is. I want to know the characters’ attitudes. Then we work back from there and fill in the rest….