This is an outlining post, not an American Idol post. But, something Barry Manilow said tonight on AI was so simple and so obvious that I marvel I've never heard it said to a singer before. (Stop boo'ing me! I'll tie this up in a minute.) Manilow reminded the Idol contestants that they are not just vocalists, they are storytellers. He warned them to stop belting it out and remember to tell the story.
So, what does this have to do with screenwriting?
Fundamentals are critical, but at this stage of the American Idol game, those singers shouldn't have to focus on them. Proving you can belt out a song is not the same thing as singing it well. Same goes for us as writers. At the "writing the screenplay" stage of the game, we shouldn't have to focus on fundamentals or be so anxious to prove what good writers we are that we belt out a story without really telling it.
I'm not suggesting that fundamentals are unimportant. Nor am I suggesting that the pros don't ponder technical issues. But those are issues that need to be resolved at the outlining stage which is actually the "story writing" stage. The outline IS the story and the screenplay is the "telling of that story".
Outline = story
Screenplay = telling of that story
The lesson for me is that while ever-learning and ever-improving my craft is good, there is a time and place for fundamentals - the outline. Don't start the screenplay until the story and structure are in place. I should know the story so well that by the time I start writing the screenplay, I'm not thinking about the fundamentals at all. It's a no brainer. That doesn't mean there won't be changes along the way. There will be. But, when it comes time to write the screenplay, my focus should simply be on telling a good story.