Zero Draft Thirty is a fun, rewarding experience… until it isn’t.
The easiest way to ensure that your ZD30 is a success is to plot everything out in advance. When you’re writing a large chunk of text over a long period, the burnout comes swift and it comes hard. Don’t try and make it more difficult on yourself by going in without a plan.
Pantsing vs Plotting
In the great debate of “flying by the seat of your pants” versus “plotting it all out in advance,” I am what is known as a reformed pantser. I believed wholeheartedly in going with the flow and letting the characters tell me what to do.
When it comes down to it, you need to plan out longer work. When I was writing my feature The Patron Saint of Spies, the first draft was done intuitively. I let the story flow through me and went with my gut. I only worked when the Muse was talking, and it took me forever. When I finished, I read through the draft, and I did not like what I saw.
Knowing that, I plotted out my next script (a ridiculous chase movie called Certified Public Accountant) pretty extensively. Even though it was a silly thing designed to boost my confidence, I was amazed at how much faster my second script went to my first. I was able to put out a seventy page draft in a matter of weeks instead of months, and the plot problems I had with Patron Saint just weren’t there.
So learn from my mistakes! Plot out your script before you start writing. When you have a map to go by, you’re much less likely to get lost.
How to Plot
I’m not going to tell you that my way is the only way. Every writer has a way of plotting out story that works best for them.
Some people like being more free. You could keep a notebook and jot down ideas, connecting them in a mind map. You could storyboard major set pieces. You could also put together a loose narrative story. You could also go the tried and true route of putting each scene on an index card and carrying them with you.
Some people work best with a more rigid system. They use bullet points and go through each scene, putting loose notes what’s happening in each place. You could also put together a whole story bible, with every bit of information that you’re going to use for your screenplay.
Personally, I like Post-it notes. I use a pad of little two-by-two Post-its, and put each beat of the story on a note. I then put all the notes on the table so I have a literal bird’s eye view of my story. I can look at the progression of the story, where there might be holes, and rearrange beats as required. If I want to carry them around, I have a folded up piece of poster board that fits in my bag. I just stick my story on the poster board, and then every table becomes a desk.
However you do it, make yourself a map of your story so that you don’t have to rely on that fickle Muse to get you through. You’re going to be busy, so you can’t rely on her.