The Ever-Hated Outline

During the two months of taking Screenwriting, I’ve learned that there really is a time and a place for an outline.  A lot of people depend upon them; just as many cringe at the thought of them.  But, as they say, everything in moderation—and this seems to ring true with outlines.

Of course, there are several different methods of outlines depending on how much you like planning things.  Of course, most people at least have some idea where they’re going and a few things that will happen along the way, but it’s very easy to get in over your head (speaking from experience).  Lack of planning can quickly became disastrous for a novel.

If you like outlines (or formulas), the Hero’s Journey can be useful.  Also, there is the “Beat Sheet”—normally used for screenwriting, but it could be used to help a writer ensure that action progresses through a novel—from Blake Snyder’s guidebook Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.

Try saying that title three times fast!

Long title aside, this book is pretty useful.  Snyder’s “Beat Sheet” is very similar to the Hero’s Journey, but Snyder divides the story differently.  Although, if you wanted to, you could use both and they would be compatible.

If you’re not as into outlines, an easy one is to simply write down all your major plot points that will lead you from the inciting incident to the climax and resolution.  It’s simple, and the thing I like about it is that you can just keep adding things to the list as you figure out more about your story.  That way, you have a running chronology of everything you expect to do over the course of the novel.  I also like it because it helps me not to forget what I’m planning.

These are two extremes, and there is an infinite number of possibilities between, depending on how thoroughly you want to plan.  There is definitely something to be said for leaving room for spontaneity in the progression of a story.  It’s never good to box yourself in so you can’t explore new possibilities that emerge during the story-writing process.

I hope you find something in here useful.  Do any of you have other methods of planning?  I’d love to hear about them!

3 thoughts on “The Ever-Hated Outline”

    1. Thanks!
      Into the Shadows is still in progress. It’s in a temporary stall as I double check things with a couple other novels I’ve previously written about Monneth that happen in the same time period, but I’m on track with where I want to be with it. I expected this to happen when I began, because I want to make sure I don’t contradict myself.


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