CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday June 21st.

A course for scriptwriters in all media – TV, film, radio, theatre – designed to help you generate exciting story ideas, create original character characters, and give your creativity a boost with a day of fun, stimulating writing exercises. Run by TV drama script editor, producer and script consultant PHIL SHELLEY with guest speaker writer & political activist ANDERS LUSTGARTEN



Hi There,


My thoughts last week on OUTLINES seem to have touched a collective nerve – lots of discussion, particularly on LINKED-IN, about the value or otherwise of outlines (whether as selling documents or structure \ story aids).

From my own personal experience, I have been working further this week with a writer on a project where we’ve been through a couple of abortive outlines which – for me – weren’t quite delivering as stories. The writer has now written a new outline – a brand new story, and it’s great.

This for me as a script editor highlights the usefulness of the outlining process – far less pain involved in throwing out an outline and starting again than with a full script – although the writer in question would argue, I’m sure, that I’ve put them through quite enough pain! But for me, and I hope eventually for the writer, the outlining process has been worth it because this writer now has a story that I’m convinced will make a really good script (no pressure).

It’s all about STORY. If a story is working, then it will come across in an outline, and vice versa – if it’s not working, it won’t work in an outline. SO this new outline for episode one is only 2 pages long (preceded in this instance by character biogs – which help enormously) but it’s a great read – it’s story that has real complexity, a strong sense of humour and humanity, and above all an engaging, character-driven story that keeps you reading.

In my experience, a successful outline can be almost as enjoyable a read as a good script – if an outline is well-written, with a brief, economical and accurate description of the action of each scene (importantly – without any other explanation of the characters’ internal life, JUST the external action), giving a strong sense of how the story cuts from scene to scene, then it is a very strong indicator of whether the all-important STORY is working.

Having read this new outline I immediately went and pitched it to my family, who were all drawn into the story. This for me is a really good test of a story’s strength – a. If I want \ feel the need to tell people about it (ie it excites me) and b. If I can then do the story justice when recounting it out-loud, without hesitating, back-tracking and having to add my own interpretation \ explanation. (Which gets me onto a whole other area – and a very important area for writers – the verbal pitch, which I must come back to at a later date.)

So here is a selection of quotes in response to last week’s OUTLINES newsletter –

‘Something very important a tutor told me for both outlines and treatments was: if it’s for a comedy… make it funny; if it’s for a thriller… make it feel exciting; if it’s a for a chiller…. conjure an atmosphere. Amongst other things it shows you know the genre you’re writing in.’

‘Don’t confuse the reader with minor details.’

Beat sheets and Outlines are critical to the writing process. They save time, keep your story focused and on track, and help you create solid character actions and decisions.’

‘…most importantly, I was certain that the writer’s love for the script, belief in the story and desire to fire someone else up enough to help or fund the progress of that script should shine from words on the page! If the writer’s unenthusiastic it would be remarkable if anybody else would be.’

‘…been using outlining (after the story is written) to show holes for a few years now. I know, after the fact may not be as productive a use for an outline, but it still works. As for outlining in general, I’ve only written one ever (before the fact). Reason is, I knew the entire story before I wrote FADE IN.’

‘One great thing about Outlining for some people – need it to stay on track of where they wanted to go…when you’re taking months or years to write it. Your life can change so that way your story won’t change from what you first saw it as being. I know if I don’t write it down when I’m thinking about it and try later to remember it is never the same.’

‘Outlining is climbing the mountain. Writing the draft is skiing down it.’

‘Outlining?!That’s like putting your characters in chains. I prefer to let them lead me and though it may take longer it sure is a funner adventure.’

‘One great thing about outlines is they show you where your story holes are. Better than powering through 60 pages of brilliant dialogue and hitting a brick wall that requires major changes to what went before.’

‘My problem with writing my outlines – I become too wordy?? (not sure if that is a word) I get so excited describing my characters, the premise for the story, that I lose track of (what my concept of an outline is) to catch their attention, sell the sizzle. Give them just enough information that they can’t wait to read the script. Remember the outline is to help you organize your thoughts in the beginning. It also sets the final stage for your presentation. I am a visual person so when I have an idea for a storyline I build pictures, I do a story board. I draw or cut out what I think the scenes and characters should look like and that helps me.’

‘This is going to sound funny…the only time I struggle with an outline is when I haven’t done enough development on my characters or back-story. This is my experience and probably not every writer is going to go through the same thing. Deep, deep, deep down, I kind of like outlines. I like that they allow me to see the blueprint of the film on paper, which builds into excitement, which is what I take with me when I sit down to write the screenplay. It’s that euphoria that I try to hold onto when I begin every day. It’s a challenge, I admit it, and I’m not gonna lie my keyboard has taken many hits from my forehead.’

Thank you for all these excellent insights,

Have a great Easter weekend,

All the best




Twitter: @philipshelley1

April 17th 2014