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Outline or no outline?

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Sep 26, 2017 5:22:07 AM

I'm currently enrolled in a screenwriting program to adapt one of my novels for film. When the instructor brought up the concept of outlines in a recent class, I found myself leaning forward to hear his thoughts. In the eight books I've written, not once have I worked from a detailed outline, and I've always wondered if I was going about it wrong. Would my stories be better if I put more planning into them? I was afraid to know the answer. Several times I've tried to write an outline, at least a bare-bones one, but I've never stuck to it, not even close. In each instance the story went in a different direction, and when I finished the first draft I looked back at the outline and thought, "Well that didn't work out how I thought it would."

Getting back to the class - I was not expecting what the instructor said about outlines, which was essentially that they are worthless because he always ends up throwing them away. But immediately after he said that, he qualified that he was talking about his own experience, and that outlines work great for other people. So once again I found myself wondering if I should learn to use an outline...or not.

In the class I was sitting next to a lawyer, and we got to chatting about our respective projects. He had his entire story outlined in detail and said that was how his brain worked. When I told him I was jealous because my brain does not work that way, he said that he had outlines for several books and screenplays but had never gotten past the outline phase, so he was jealous of me. We laughed at how the grass is always greener.

Do outlines work? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear what you have to say! Bottom line though - do what works for you.

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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at

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1,319 Views Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, outline, screenwriting

Sep 26, 2017 12:07 PM MPhillip    says:

Outlines work.  However, like everything else surrounding a manuscript, an outline is merely one more tool in a writer's bag of goodies.  Some folks won't write without one, and other folks won't let 'em in the house much less near their writing place.  Maybe your lawyer friend would have better luck if he used his outlines as tools instead carved-in-stone road maps?


Outlines are welcome in my writing space as long as they remain quiet and don't drink from my coffee mug.  I've used them, occasionally, but have not successfully stuck to one.  Helmuth von Moltke said it best - "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." 


And, since we're taking the twelve step plan to better writing, I must admit I am jealous of your writing style.

Sep 28, 2017 9:02 AM Kawazan    says:

Outlines work for me, maybe because I am a communications and journalism major.  However, I used an outline for my first book and it worked out perfectly.  I am now using an outline for my 2nd book - almost done, and it is working out just as well.  I use outlines mostly because I know what I want to say and how I want to present it. By having an outline I ensure that I hit all talking points in the order that I want to present them.  From time to time I may change the outline, only because I found that something needed to be added or excluded.  But I believe you must have a strategy for anything you do, including writing a book.  It helps me to stay focused, so as not to veer to far off of the subject at hand.

Mar 5, 2018 3:40 AM hellenrose    says:

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