Updating a Spec Outline

It’s happened to you. You’ve toiled long, hard hours on your spec outline. You’ve loved it and hated it. You’ve turned it over and over in your tired brain. Finally, blessedly, you’ve come up with an outline that you’re sure will turn the heads of Hollywood. It pops and sparkles. It incorporates all the main characters and a couple of recurring. It fits into the world of your show. It’s sure to finally launch that career you’ve been dreaming of. It’s your ticket to the big leagues.

And then the new season happens to you and… not only has the main character got a new job (and the usual format acquired a new regularly-used set as a result), but your spec is about the family looking after a goat and the family has just got a new dog!

Based on my own experience with American Housewife, I have a few tips.

  1. First, be thankful that your spec is only at the outline stage. You haven’t put fingers to keyboard in Final Draft and committed to dialogue that’ll be more difficult to change. Count that blessing!
  2. Make a list of the changes you’re now going to have to incorporate into your outline. In my case, my new American Housewife outline had to incorporate (a) Katie’s new job (with the quirky characters it introduces, such as Whitney and possibly Kevin) and (b) the new dog, Luther.
  3. Assess each change. How important is it? How permanent is it likely to be? This is a bit of guesswork, but you can’t get inside the minds and plans of the writers enough to predict how dated each change is going to be over the long term, so you might as well make your best guess.
  4. Do some research on each change. I find Deadline Hollywood to be a good place to research what’s in the works for TV shows.
  5. Analyze your first draft and look for places to make your more minor changes. In my case, I looked at my first draft and decided to make the goat get the dog in trouble in a couple of places, to move one scene to Whitney’s office, and to add a couple of scenes in Whitney’s office.
  6. For more major changes, integrate into your story. As an example from my outline, now that Katie’s a party planner, doesn’t it jump out at you that she should now be planning the garden party through work?
  7. For changes that can’t integrate with your story at all, accept that you may have to write a new spec. This sucks, but we’ve all been through worse.
  8. If you’re lucky and you don’t have to write a new spec, rewrite. Don’t forget to go over your entire outline and integrate anything you feel works.
  9. Go over your rewrite and make any changes you’re inspired to make.
  10. Celebrate! Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a reward!

Stay inspired,


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