Before writing the 1st draft–do you need an outline?

The question, in our opinion, isn’t whether or not to outline, but rather,

how much outlining should come before writing the sentences, paragraphs and chapters that make a book?

You can spend weeks surfing the web, finding advice and trying out prompts and tips. You can read a library full of writing books that offer advice. But if you’ve decided to write a book, don’t waste a lot of time pondering, fretting and experimenting. Get to work. Don’t just think about it. Write your story.

No matter what kind of book you’re writing, treat it as a story,

because a book without a story is a dull, droning thing. Nobody wants to read it.

If you are an intuitively creative person you can work from a minimal outline, like this one.

  • The year/time is (blankety-blank). The place is (blankety-blank).
  • The main character is (blankety-blank).
    • In fiction, you must choose one main character. The rest are all supporting characters. If you’re writing memoir, the main character is you. If you’re writing to help a reader, the main character is the reader.
  • The main character really, really wants (blankety-blank). 
    • Pick one ardent and important desire.
  • But (blankety-blankgets in the way.
    • Name something that makes it difficult for the main character to get what s/he wants–a person, a tradition, an act of nature, a mass-marketing campaign, an emotional or physical barrier that thwarts the attainment of that desire.
  • Because (blankety-blank).
    • Explain, briefly, how and why this thing that got in the way, prevents your character from getting what s/he wanted.
  • So the main character does (blankety-blank).
    • Describe how the character squirms and connives to overcome the obstacle, to get what s/he wants.
  • And then (blankety-blank), 
    • Explain what happened as a result of this desperate attempt to get something, and how the character reacts to the event.
  • and (blankety-blank).  
    • Explain the complications of the situation and how the character continues to attempt to get his/her way. 
  • And (blankety-blank),
    • Repeat as often as necessary until…
  • It turns out that (blankety-blank).
    • Explain how it happens that the character does or does not get what s/he wants. 

Now you have the bare-bones structure of a story, start writing it.

If you’re a rational-logical thinker, or if you are writing a self-help or wellness book, draft a more detailed outline.

 What kind of book are you writing? Do you like to work from a detailed outline, or do you write in order to discover what will happen? 

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