In Four Alternatives to Outlines, I wrote about how I use a “Question and Answer” document to figure out plot points and clarify background details in my scripts. For the script I’m currently working on, the “Q and A” list has become my most important resource.
Sometimes coming up with the answer to a story question is obvious and straightforward — Like “What is the location for this scene?”
But other times, the questions haunt me. The really difficult questions have many possible solutions that will affect plot points and character relationships throughout the script.
During the initial stages of plotting out a story, I often have a strong aversion to answering these types of questions, and the result is writer’s block.
Specifically, I have observed this type of procrastination seriously harming a script in two significant ways:
- I avoid choosing a specific answer to a story question, and plunge ahead on the script, figuring the answer will appear later — but because future plot points in the script depend on that earlier piece of information, the script begins to lose narrative clarity and focus -or-
- Fear of committing to the “wrong” answer keeps me fixated on the question — I lose all forward momentum and continue only worrying about that one question.
For my current script, I needed to have a really clear idea about the backstory between two main characters. The question was, “How does Milosh know about Hannah’s backstory, but she doesn’t know about him?”
This detail may never reveal itself in the script, but it is an important part of the relationship between these two characters, who will be interacting often.
I agonized about the problem, but the answer stayed vague and nebulous because I hadn’t committed to picking one solution. So I forced myself write out ten different solutions.
It sounds like a pain in the ass. It is.
But forcing yourself to write out ten solutions means that you will prevent the writer’s block that accompanies looking for the “perfect” solution. Creating ten different solutions also forces you to blast through the crappy, easy, and predictable solutions (for me, these are usually solutions 1-3), then hit on some intriguing and creative solutions (4-6), and then finally squeeze your brain for some off the wall and bizarre solutions (7-10).
Solution # 5 tends to be my sweet spot, but sometimes I come up with a great solution on answer #2. No matter what, I try to come up with at least ten solutions, no matter how weird or crappy they seem.
Ten solutions forces you to explore a full range of possibilities — and the “Milosh and Hannah” question is a good example — my 10th solution was to combine Milosh with another character, and suddenly the background story made perfect sense.
Don’t worry about the “right” answer. Don’t lose your momentum. Create ten solutions.