Outline or no outline?

Maria Murnane

Maria Murnane

Best-selling Author of the Waverly Bryson Series, and 2015 International Book Award Winner

I recently completed a screenwriting program to learn how to adapt one of my novels for film. One night the instructor brought up the concept of outlines, and 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.


This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. 2018 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Be proactive about giving away books to your target audience
I recently attended a good friend's wedding in Oregon. There were several events over the few days I was there, which gave me a chance to get to know some of the other guests. The bride is a big fan of my novels and has been vocal about them to her network, so many of the women I met had already read my books. Others had not but said they were e...
Read More
"To lay" vs. "to lie"
I love yoga. I love my yoga teachers too. They are kind, positive, nurturing people who strive to make their students feel good inside and out. They aren't always so great at grammar. In nearly every class, at some point the teacher will gently say "Now lay on your backs." While I love this part because it means class is winding down, I always ...
Read More
New Year's book marketing resolution
It's that time of year again, the beginning! Why not start yours by making the following resolution? In 2019 I will do (at least) one thing every day to promote my writing. I realize that marketing is a foreign language to many authors, and even those who are familiar with it don't usually enjoy it. But if you want people who aren't your friend...
Read More
Are you making this marketing mistake?
A couple years after my first novel was released, I noticed a title on Amazon with the same name. I read that book’s description and realized it was also in the same vein as mine, which had been featured on the front page of the Life section of USA Today and also (briefly!) reached No. 2 overall on Amazon. In other words, it was not hidden under...
Read More
Is it ITS or IT'S?
ITS vs. IT’S is tricky because the way to use ITS goes against everything we're taught about possession. Here's a quick explanation that I hope will clear up the confusion: When something belongs to someone or something (possession), we normally use an apostrophe: This book belongs to Gloria This is Gloria's book I enjoy reading blog posts wri...
Read More
Be careful when asking others to promote your book
Word-of-mouth is a powerful force, and there’s nothing wrong with encouraging your fans to tell their friends about your book. The key word here is fans. It’s clear that a person is a fan of your book if she writes a favorable review on her blog, if he sends you an email telling you he enjoyed it, if she signs up for your newsletter, etc. In tho...
Read More
What is a blog tour?
A blog tour, also sometimes called a virtual book tour, is when a number of book blogs post a review of a title during a set period of time, for example a couple weeks or a month, usually right around when the book launches. As with a traditional book tour, the goal of a virtual one is to create “buzz” by reaching avid readers (i.e. potential cu...
Read More
More capitalization confusion
One of the most common capitalization errors I see is regarding family members, especially parents. Here’s a refresher on the rule: If the “Mom/mom” or “Dad/dad” is replacing the name of the person, then capitalize it because it’s a proper noun. If it’s replacing the title of the person, leave it in lowercase. For example, let’s say you’re spe...
Read More
What's the worst thing your character can think about a situation?
In previous posts I’ve discussed the importance of putting obstacles in front of characters as a way to bring conflict into your story. Another way to create conflict is to consider multiple ways a character could view a situation--then have her choose the worst one. Why do this? Because how your character responds to this choice shows your read...
Read More
More words that are easy to mix up
More than once in the past few weeks I’ve heard the word “reactionary” used to describe someone who reacts or has reacted to something. I flinch each time this happens, because the word that should be used in these cases is “reactive.” Reactive vs. Reactionary Reactive means responsive, or reacting to something. His reactive nature drove hi...
Read More