Outline or no Outline?

Here’s what I know about outlines:

In television writing, I learned that outlines were a must. The episodes had to fit into a one hour or one half hour time slot, which meant about 49 minutes or 22 minutes of show exactly (It more like 44 or 18 minutes today).

The story editor or producer needs to know if the story you pitched that sounded so wonderful was actually going to work as an episode: you know, the three-act structure, beginning, middle, end, a cliffhanger act ending to bring your audience back after the commercials.

There is no way to tell if your story is going to fit without an outline that describes the “beats,” or events in each act. If one event in, say three of Act II is “the rebels destroy the Death Star,” it ain’t gonna fit.

Less obvious are things like, do your characters act and speak (outlines include a few dialog snippets) as they do in other episodes? Is there a main story–the “A” story–and a “B” story?

So, I always wrote an outline. As a story editor, I always read outlines carefully for the things that would tell me if a story was going to work or not.

The financial end of things is: if a story doesn’t work, the writer is “cut off at outline,” which means he doesn’t see the big payday that comes when he hands in the script. Saves the budget for stories that do work.

Writing non-fiction books, an outline was essential. The publishers want to see chapters and an outline. My books with Ted Pedersen were all method books: how to do stuff on the internet. They had to be simple, step-by-step descriptions of what to do first, second, third.

My solo book, The Rosenberg Espionage Case, (in the Famous Trials series) was history. First this happened, then this happened. While this was going on here, this was happening over there. Outline a necessity.

Despite my very long experience in writing an outline, for some weird reason, I decided to write ‘The Story Store,’ my first (not-yet-published) novel, without an outline.

I’ll tell you how that worked next time.

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