This blog was featured on 11/25/2019
Outline or No Outline?
Written by
Maria Murnane
November 2019
Written by
Maria Murnane
November 2019

Last year I enrolled in a screenwriting program to learn how to adapt one of my novels for film. When the instructor brought up the concept of outlines, 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 did try to write an outline, at least a bare-bones one, but I 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 force myself to work from an outline…or not.

That evening I was sitting next to a lawyer, and we got to chatting about our respective projects. He had the entire story for his screenplay 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 for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear what you have to say! 


Maria Murnane writes bestselling novels about life, love and friendship. Have questions? You can find her at






















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  • Maria Murnane

    @Raine, I agree that it's a brain wiring thing. I liken it to the way I prepare for a trip abroad or somewhere I've never been. I tend to wing it, while others create a detailed itinerary for every day. I just don't have the patience to plan a vacation that way haha.

  • Raine Fraser Writing

    This is so timely. I tend not to work from outlines. I sometimes sketch out what I think is going to happen, but more than once a story has gone in a direction I didn't expect. Character sketches do me more good than outlines. I think it is a brain wiring thing...whatever works for one person can be paralyzing for another. Thanks for the musings.