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.
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