Tone Deaf

A couple days ago, I wrote about why creating an outline before writing a script is overrated.  Since then, I realized a more concrete observation about the limits of outlining:

Outlining fails to reveal anything about the tone, emotion, or feeling of the story you are telling.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s the observation that led me to that conclusion:

The Iron Giant and Terminator 2: Judgement Day would have the same outline.

One is an animated children’s story of friendship set against the paranoia of the Cold War.  The other is an R-rated sci-fi action movie.  I love both films.  At their most basic level, both stories are about a boy who befriends a robot, teaches that robot about humanity, and then is ultimately saved when the robot sacrifices itself on the boy’s behalf.

The difference between the two?  Tone.

The tone and feeling of a movie is generally considered to be the domain of the director, and while this may be true in certain contexts, the fact is that the screenwriter is usually the person who gets to decide what the film is about —

— And the “what is it?”, isn’t something that will be revealed by the outline.

My big, audacious vision for this project is to both write and direct my story, so I’ll be responsible for the tone and mood of the movie in the end.   But right now, I’m focusing on finding the tone for the film first, and then backing my way into an outline.

Focus on the tones, moods and the feelings of your stories — they will make your work unique.

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