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May 24th, 2007

To Outline or Not to Outline

This is a question that seems to come up all the time at panels and in general writing discussions. There are people on both sides of the camp and never a lot of agreement as to what to do.

To me though, Writing, like art, is one of those things were you can take lessons, read books, practice techniques, but in the end, you have to find the way to do it that feels the most comfortable to YOU. No one formula will work for everyone, no matter how much you try to force it. And sadly a lot of the classes out there try to fit the square peg into a round hole, even though it's not necessary.

Asking whether you should outline or not is like asking if you should write in the mornings or in the afternoons. Do whichever one feels right for you. If you have no idea, try each of them out and see which one gives you the best results.

If you're the type of person who likes to have a road map before beginning on a journey, outline. If you are more of a drive by the seat of your pants type of person, no outline.

Now for me, as with a lot of things having to do with writing, it all depends on the project! I've written stories and books with and without outlines. To me outlining is a tool. So if I need it I use it, if I don't I don't.

In the Service of Samurai was done without an outline. Vassal of El has certain scenes I knew I wanted, but pretty much was also done outline free. Cross-eyed Dragon Troubles, however, which came partially from the wellspring that is my hubby, was almost totally mapped out in outline form before I ever started. Willing Sacrifice, no outline - though in a way, since it was one sided when first written, then Dal's side added in afterward, there might be some argument there. Jewel of the Gods, my current Work-in-progress, started out outline free, but I found myself getting mired in details and loosing my way, so out came the paper and so far a partial outline has been jotted down so I know what I need to do and explain where so I can keep on course.

Outlines can also be useful when you're stuck. You can get so involved in trying to get that right feeling, or description, or turn of phrase that you can't think clearly about what needs to come next. Best thing to do then is to take a step back and outline. Because it is brief and you don't have to worry about grammar, syntax, etc, it's just the bare bones after all, your brain is then free to focus and think about only the plot instead!

So if you want a map, outline right off the bat. If you feel you have it all upstairs or just want to meander through it, go for it! The important part is to be productive and write! So do whatever works for you. Just don't forget if things go a little off kilter or slow, you can always use an outline as something to get your juices flowing in the right direction again.

Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic
Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic



(2015) Fantasy

The King is Dead! Long Live the Undead King!

"What are you implying?"

The magister glided forward and scrunched down beside him.

"That in order to bathe, you must first actually get into the bath."


(2014) Urban Fantasy

It took everything from her, except revenge!

The muscles in my right arm jerked from tension as I tried to make it move and it resisted. A shrill scream inside my head insisted I didn't want to do this. That if I did, there'd be no way to take it back. "I...I'm afraid."


(2011) Young Adult – Fantasy

Which is worse…the monster without or within?


Home—family—the two things he would never have, the two things forever denied him…because of her.

Anger welled inside him, the heat of it suffusing him to the core, gurgling with seething emotions the total opposite of the coolness splashing down from the fountain nearby. Before he realized what he was doing, Jarrin stepped inside the gazebo.

(2007) Young Adult – Fantasy
“Harry Potter meets Dragon Riders of Pern”


“Do you need any help?” she asked. “Just tell me what you want me to do. If you prefer, I’m sure I can round up at least a few people to come over and give you a hand.”

Kel slowly shook his head. “It’s all right. Thanks anyway.” His voice lowered to where she almost couldn’t hear it. “This is all part of my punishment.’

She frowned, not understanding what he meant. “Punishment?”

Kel cocked his head in Clarence’s direction. In a flash, she understood. None of this was an accident. Clarence had landed there deliberately, hoping to make Kel pay for all he went through in the past month. She shook her head, not wanting to believe this, but what the dragon said next took any doubts right out of her head.

(2008) Young Adult – Fantasy
“To save the world she must DIE! Or must she?”


Panic and fear filled with utter helplessness made her dizzy. She knew what would be done with her, she knew what they planned. But there was nothing she could do to stop any of it.

Sharp gasps echoed in her ears as she felt the room’s cold air caress the Eye.

“You were right. She is the one.”

(2002) Adult/YA – Japanese Fantasy Adventure
“The Last Samurai meets Pirates of the Caribbean”


Laying the blade on the floor before him, Toshi parted his kimono until his stomach lay exposed. He tucked his sleeves beneath his legs to hold him upright if he should falter. Ignoring Asano, he took up the blade. His shoulder flared with pain and he tried not to flinch, as he grabbed the blade with both hands. He turned the wakizashi until its sharp point was aimed at his belly, the residence of his soul.

(2004) Adult/YA – Fantasy Mystery
“He tried to forget his past, but his past wouldn’t forget him”


Torren took a step back a sudden shudder racking through him. It was as if he’d never left, as if the boy he’d been would be coming back-though the one who’d loved this room and all these things was long, long dead. That boy died when he’d watched his father’s blood pour forth from his mouth, the end of a sword protruding from his abdomen. That boy died when he survived while everyone else lay dead.

Info, sample chapters, and free reads at www.gloriaoliver.com

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