Screenplays can be more structured than novels, short stories, prose, etc... And all screenwriting advice talks about this epic mapping of plot and beats - that you need a wall of notecards ever putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard. Lot's of novelists give this advice as well. But, lot's of other novelists encourage just writing and letting the novel unfurl with minimal pre-planning. As Chris Baty calls it: pantsing.
But I never see this advice offered to screenwriters. Why is that? Many writers are already scared off by the formatting of screenwriting, but then let's add that you need an entire month or more of pre-planning? Those looser, non-outliners run for the hills...
Well I'm here to dispel this. Yes, you can completely write a successful screenplay without all those index cards and planning.
I am a panster screenwriting.
My "baby" screenplay was born of a challenge. Write a screenplay about a homicidal scrapbooking club, oh and the main character has to be gay (because the commissioner had certain parts already). Oh, and it has to include a shoe made of body parts (why?). Oh! And there has to be room for a sequel. Now go!
Script Frenzy rolled around, and I just started typing. I had no idea how any of this was going to work or who the main character was. But as I pushed forward, I started thinking and started letting the characters develop, and suddenly, I really had something. Something good. Something born without an outline.
I couldn't stretch out the ending anymore, and ended up making up the last 10 pages of bonus features to meet Script Frenzy's 100 pages. After revisions (there are about 2), the final script is 90 pages. I don't plan on selling the script, because, well, my production team wants to make it. But I have shown it to people in the "biz." One said that it wasn't his cup of tea, but that it was really well written and solid. The producer said that it wasn't something he could produce at this time, but has since called me about a script doctoring job. I showed it to actors and a few other writers, all of whom loved it.
No one said anything about pacing, or poor plotting, or weak structure. No one could tell that I didn't outline to the smallest detail, or that I made the whole thing up on the spot. No one thought for the briefest of moments that I wrote the whole thing without planning.
Now I'm not saying that I don't need revisions, but even traditionally outline scripts need revisions.
I have not planned out a screenplay since Scrapbooking three years ago. Even my current work, which is an adaptation, has no pre-planning and has gone from a short to a feature because I just sat down and started writing. And I plan on keeping it this way as long as I write.