Outlining And The Inner Five-Year-Old

Two days in an empty house, one of which spent beating my head against the wall of exhaustion masking as writer’s block, four colours of Sharpie, 107 index cards and a pot of goulash. That’s what it took to completely re-outline Underworld Calling, my supernatural thriller, from scratch. Into that rewrite went notes from members of the London Writers’ Circle, friends on Twitter and excellent paid feedback from Drew Hilton, the Screenplay Mechanic.

As much as I loved the ideas and characters, and the last draft and story as a whole, I knew it had major issues: Dangling plotlines, insufficient visual and commercial appeal, redundant characters and poor structure. Most of it was due to not outlining from the get-go, then re-tinkering with it over and over, rather than just biting the bullet and outlining it all over again. My key tool to ensure the story was nice and tight this time around was to enquire of my inner five-year old. Every index card was greeted with a plaintive ‘But whyyyy?!’. And if I couldn’t answer it simply on the index card, it got shuffled off until I had either an answer or a better plot point. And by that method, many darlings were murdered, sometimes literally, always brutally.

I’m a long way from done, of course. There are currently oodles of index cards on the floor, in columns by sequence. I’ve taken photos, but I need to write them up, and then turn them into a treatment. And when all that’s done, then starts the actual writing wherein there’s a decent chance the plot and characters and outline will shift a little. But I have a solid starting point, an outline that has managed to survive my most brutal self-criticism, and the relentless enquiries of said inner five-year old. And that’s no bad thing at all.

Scripped, Online Screenwriting and Backups

Some screenwriters, whether for reasons of cost or convenience, prefer online software solutions for their script work, whether Adobe Story, Celtx, or newcomer WriterDuet. However, last week the risk of those primarily online services came to public attention with the dramatic implosion of Scripped.

Scripped was an online-only screenwriting and script storage solution, a web-based alternative to using Final Draft or Fade In. The ScreenCraft owned community was languishing somewhat, apparently on the verge of rejuvenation when a total database calamity occurred. All scripts, including all backups, were irrevocably wiped with no hope of restoring them. Due to the diminishing nature of the community, the damage wasn’t as widespread as might have been feared, but for those people still deeply embedded in the ecosystem, it was catastrophic. Those who had not maintained offline backups had lost potentially years of work.

Now, the idea of not taking backups sends shivers of fear up my spine. It’s this kind of terror, combined with poor or non-existent offline solutions, that has kept me from web-based screenwriting software. I know that Adobe Story and WriterDuet have both an offline solution and backup options, but then so did Scripped. Adobe may have more resilient infrastructure than Scripped owners Screencraft, but nothing can really protect you totally from that kind of disaster.

Personally, I write using offline tools, I use Dropbox for day-to-day synching, TimeMachine for frequent backups, and also store timestamped archives of my writing folder on an FTP site. I considered myself slightly over-paranoid in this regard until I started speaking to other people. Additional options included saving timestamped archives onto DVDs, and printing and filing all drafts of all scripts. Those might be going a bit far for me, especially physical copies. Paper is anathema to me, and if I fall out of love with a script, the temptation to shred it might just be too great.

So, what can we learn from the Scripped fiasco? By all means use online solutions, especially if budgets are a concern. But make sure they have decent internal backup solutions, and also store editable copies of all your scripts elsewhere, with as many additional storage iterations as your paranoia demands. Because it’s only paranoia until the unthinkable happens.

Addendum

Craig Mazin and John August go into some detail about the Scripped aftermath in their Scriptnotes podcast.

Also, if you need to recover scripts from PDF backups, this can be done with most files directly in Fade In, but also in Highland.

Screenwriting Competitions 2015 (February)

I had two chances to place in the top 10% of the BlueCat screenwriting competition, one for a feature and one for a short. Sadly, neither placed, but I am swallowing the bitter pill of rejection and moving on. Plenty more opportunities ahead!

I’ve listed all the competitions I know about below, sorted by date, with their associated costs, which should help you plan your deadlines. And if you prefer an Excel sheet, I have that too.

Name & URL Date Cost
Rocliffe TV 28/02/15 £21
Nicholl Early 02/03/15 $40
LIFF Feature Film Late 06/03/15 £55
LIFF Short Film Late 06/03/15 £45
Scriptalooza Regular 10/03/15 $55
Page Late 16/03/15 $59
Euroscript 31/03/15 £35
ScreenCraft Shorts Final 06/04/15 $29
Nicholl Normal 10/04/15 $55
Screencraft Comedy Final 11/04/15 $49
Page Final 15/04/15 $69
Screencraft Horror Early 15/04/15 $29
Scriptalooza Late 15/04/15 $60
Scriptalooza TV 15/04/15 $45
AFF Feature Film Normal 20/04/15 $40
AFF Short Film Normal 20/04/15 $30
AFF TV Normal 20/04/15 $30
TrackingB TV 26/04/15 $99
Scriptalooza Final 29/04/15 $65
Nicholl Late 01/05/15 $75
AFF Feature Film Late 20/05/15 $50
AFF Short Film Normal 20/05/15 $40
AFF TV Normal 20/05/15 $40
Shore Early 31/05/15 £25
Screencraft Horror Final 01/06/15 $49
Screncraft Pilot Early 15/07/15 $39
Shore Normal 31/07/15 £30
Screencraft Action Early 15/08/15 $39
Screncraft Pilot Normal 01/09/15 $45
Screncraft Pilot Final 15/09/15 $65
Screencraft Action Final 15/10/15 $49
Shore Late 31/10/15 £35
Screencraft Fellowship Early 01/11/15 $39
Screencraft Family Early 18/11/15 $29
Screencraft Fellowship Normal 01/12/15 $49
Screencraft Fellowship Final 15/12/15 $69
Screencraft Family Final 30/12/15 $49

Mobile Apps for Writers

These days many writers rely on their mobile devices, their phones and tablets, rather than (or in addition to) more analogue stationary. Anything to get ideas down on the move with a minimum of effort and inconvenience. So I’ve gathered a list of mobile apps that I find useful to this end. I’ll apologise for the slight iOS bias in these, it’s not that I think one platform is necessarily superior to any other, but it just happens to be the one that works for me. Some these aren’t free, and there are cheaper alternatives for most, but again they’re the ones that work for me.

Dropbox

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Dropbox is really just your basic minimum, it’s a syncing, backup and file storage solution. Install it on your computer(s) and it’ll keep the folder synchronised across everything and make the files available to your on all your mobile devices. You can also share people links to files or entire folders, rather than sending documents backwards and forwards. Importantly, some apps listed below also allow direct access to Dropbox, meaning you’re not linked into any device specific ecosystems for file access and sharing. While the basic Dropbox package is free for 2Gb of storage, you can get 1Tb of storage for £7.99 per month.

Drafts

(Cost £7.99. Available for iOS only)

Drafts is sadly iOS only. All Drafts does is give you a blank page to create text notes, and that really is all. It gets you in fast, files your snippets away, and then gives you the opportunity to transfer the notes to social networks, Dropbox, Evernote or a variety of other destinations by a powerful series of tools. Drafts also support Markdown, for those people who use that. Use it when you need minimal friction between your device and the words battering away at your brain.

Evernote

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Evernote is a great way of organising all those little snippets you acquire over time, the little notes and photos and ideas and documents. All can be tagged and sorted and organised, making it easy to find those ideas again when you’re looking for a specific note or some inspiration. I use it by using the web clipper to clip web pages I find as I browse, sending notes from Drafts and using IFTTT to sync favourited tweets and photos.

Microsoft Word

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

As opposed to Drafts, Microsoft Word is a fully fledged word processor, and the mobile implementation, especially for tablets, is pretty good. It can even open documents from Dropbox and save them back there. Much as some would like to leave the hegemony of MS word, people are still going to use it and so we need to be able to open and edit the documents.

iAnnotate

(Cost £7.99. Available for IOS/Android)

There is a lot of competition amongst mobile PDF annotation apps, but my vote goes to iAnnotate. It does the job well, and is incredibly useful when someone inevitably send you a PDF of their work to review. It too can open from Dropbox.

Fade In Mobile

(Cost £3.99. Available for IOS/Android)

I’m a big fan of Fade In screenwriting software, and the mobile implementation is pretty good as well. And, it too can open from and sync with Dropbox.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus

(Cost £2.99. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

The M-W dictionary and thesaurus app is excellent. There are cheaper versions out there, and even British English specialised dictionaries, but I find that M-W blows them away, and also differentiates between British and American usages.

Do you have any others you can’t live without? Any replacements for any of the above, or comments on the ones I’ve chosen? Let me know!

Screenwriting Back To Basics

Last year, Scott Myers of Go Into The Story posted up a series of articles that were useful but I felt didn’t get as much traction as I thought they deserved. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you Scott’s complete Screenwriting Back To Basics series.

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 1: Writing Scenes

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 2: Protagonist Metamorphosis Arc

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 3: Plot = Structure

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 4: Character = Function

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 5: Reader Identification