To Outline or Not to Outline

To use an outline or not to use an outline? I used to be vehemently opposed to them, I thought they limited my creativity like lines on a paint by number canvas. Boy was I wrong. I was forced to face the truth when I went to a retreat and my teacher made us write an outline. My book was finished I didn't see why I needed to write one, it made no sense. But I was there to learn and the man had been on the NY Times bestseller list several times, which made him hard to argue with. So I bowed to his expertise and wrote it, following my already existing manuscript of course.

Halfway through I realized there were many problems with my story. A story which I had already sent to an agent to read. I was appalled and embarassed that I had made such mistakes. I never would have found them had I not wrote that outline. Things like, too many fight scenes (WAY too many), unresolved lines of plot, digressing from the plot, big things! I was lucky, the agent took me on. But guess what he suggested I change? Yep, all those issues my outline drew attention to. I could have saved myself and him a huge headache. I learned my lesson.

So, how to outline? That's a tougher question to answer. I start with the old roman numeral way headlining it with the chapter details. Then I'll go beneath that roman numeral with subsections of things that I want happening in that chapter. The next roman numeral would be the next chapter and so on. You'll be surprised what it will reveal about your book to you! My writing is flowing along easily with this method, and editing is a breeze compared to how it used to be. I'll never go back to the old way! What about you, do you write an outline?


  1. Heather, this is excellent advice! I always outline...but at the beginning and flow from my outline. However, you have convinced me to go and outline after it's complete to find holes, and too much. THANK YOU!! As always your advice is incredible!!

    1. You're welcome, Karlene. Thank you! Hopefully you find it as helpful as I did.

  2. I do a slim outline to write my first draft, just so I know where I'm heading but nothing so detailed as to be inflexible. Then later I often go back after the first draft and reverse outline, really fleshing it out and making sure all my plot lines tie out.

  3. I always need an outline. Sometimes I'll stray from it if the plot needs it, but for the most part, I need my map!

    1. Me too! I love you how put that, a map. That's a brilliant way to look at it!


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