Freelance Writing

A Tale of Two Outlines

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities

How easy authors make it seem. Write what you know, they say. Write from your heart. Not too much about how to get what’s in your head onto paper, or in this century, the screen. Maybe they could keep more information focused in their head than I can or maybe they were outliners extraordinaire. No idea. All I know is there are some greats. But, this, this is a tale of two outlines. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

It’s official. I love outlines. I just have trouble writing them myself. But, as a ghostwriter, I’m given the outline from which to create. Remember, I’m a reformed pantser. Sort of. I still cling to stream of conscious writing particularly late into the night or early in the morning, but when it comes to writing fifty thousand, seventy thousand, or one hundred thousand words, I need direction, a framework. And when fifty and seventy thousand word books are needed within a month’s time, that framework is imperative to success.

What I’ve found interesting though, since I’m new to this whole outline thing, is the myriad of outline preferences. There are the basics like beginning, middle, end, and a list of characters, a deeper plot outline to include nuance and ramifications, and then there’s the – for some – entirely too detailed outline where the story itself is half written. It’s kind of like a “paint-by-numbers” outline for lack of a better term.

Admittedly, too much detail in an outline can be constricting at times, especially when the dialogue is not what the characters want to say. On the other hand, writer’s block is non-existent because every moment in the book is a writing prompt. That’s the great thing about a too detailed outline.

On the flip side, a less detailed outline gives you a bit more wiggle room, greater opportunity for creativity. Before the detailed outline, another client sent a one-page outline which listed title, characters, a bit of description for the main character, and a solidly written plot overview. But, setting the scene, character development, and dialogue was all up to me. A general guideline to get those creative juices flowing.

As I navigate the world of outlines, it occurs to me that ghostwriting is a great way to decide what I like best, so that when I do get back to my own story, I’ll be able to focus and finish it.

Would love to hear from other writers, bloggers, and editors the types of outlines you like to use or to see? Eventually, I’m sure, I’ll develop my own way, but for now, I’m open to suggestions.

On another note, I’m looking for a writing community or may start one. But, if you belong to one online or are on the East Coast, I’d love to hear your recommendations in regard to that as well.

Looking forward to your comments and suggestions!


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