In Defense of Plot Outlines




Plot is a dirty word in the publishing world. Fledgling authors and the publishing elites ensconced in Manhattan high-rises treat plot outlines like a sweaty fat man behind the wheel of a non-descript van parked across the street from a playground.

A lot of this mistrust can be laid directly at the feet of highbrow character driven literary fiction and the novelists who perpetrate these premeditated acts of existentialist clap-trap. The rest is entrenched bigotry in the publishing industry against anything popular or entertaining. (Which is why profit margins in the publishing industry are steadily declining, but that’s a whole different rant.) The folks running the publishing industry hold to the belief that reading should be difficult, and any novel enjoyed by the filthy unwashed masses must, by it’s very nature, be hackneyed pot-boiler fiction without literary merit.


Sane people know different. Reading should be fun. Grown men should not break out in nervous sweats at the sight of a paperback novel.


This ingrained belief among the publishing elites, that plot is the filthy inbred cousin of real fiction, has filtered down to the writers themselves. It’s now popular, even considered intellectual, for a writer to proudly declare that they don’t use outlines. “Outlines kill creativity,” these writers decry. Usually the same would-be writers that never actually manage to produce a book.

Never the less, the idea that outlines and creativity are incompatible has become gospel. Writers who admit to relying on outlines are shunned from literary circles and pitied by those who would never sully their pen with anything so crass as a plot outline. God forbid. Effete literary snobs would rather struggle in anonymity than actually write something the average person might enjoy reading.


While the elites are busy scoffing, there are a host of commercially successful authors who rely on plot outlines to produce good fiction at a record pace. In fact, most of the authors you think of when you imagine your ideal version of success probably use outlines. The mega successful authors like James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, David Baldacci, Tom Clancy, Robert B. Parker, J.K. Rowling, Jim Butcher, Stephen J. Cannel and a host of others use plot outlines to varying degrees. I can think of only a few wildly successful authors that write instinctually. At the top of that list would be Stephen King. But honestly, after him, I’d have to search my memory banks for writers who don’t use outlines and still make the big bucks. I don’t believe Elmore Leonard uses outlines and I’ve heard Brad Thor wings it. Don’t quote me on either of those.


I can’t say with any degree of certainty if more commercially published authors are plotters or instinctual story tellers, but I will say that success leaves clues. Authors who use outlines have a roadmap you can follow. Instinctual authors usually don’t fully understand their own process, or even how they managed to do what they do, which makes reproducing their success next to impossible.


That leaves you, the aspiring novelist, with two options; emulate the artists who rely mostly on instinct and no small amount of luck, or follow the well-worn path of authors who have developed a system for structuring novels. If you choose the latter, then Literary Rebel is pleased to offer you a copy of the first volume in our series, Crafting Fiction, for FREE! Just click the link to claim your copy of our latest release. And be sure to let us know what you think in the comments section. Cheers.


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