Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

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Outlines are misunderstood. Those who write by the seat of their pants think outlines are time wasters at best and creativity killers at worst. Farland goes out of his way to reassure pantsers that this isn’t the case. He spends two-thirds of MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES explaining their utility and only one-third on actual instruction. It’s an unusual choice for a how-to manual, but one that works splendidly.

I usually dislike books that are heavy on theory and light on practice. However, in the case of outlines, I’ll take the theory. Before writers can make an outline, they need to know what a good one looks like. What are the elements of a solid, satisfying story? How are they put together? Farland covers plot and character arc and shows how to combine them into a audience-pleasing story. Who is your ideal reader? What is the reader looking for? Knowing the answers will help writers decide what to include in their novels.

Once those pieces are in place, Farland gives writers a toolbox of techniques to make their stories richer and deeper, including dilemmas, reversals, emotional twists, and romance.

Finally, it’s time to write the actual outline. Farland discusses the inciting incident at the beginning, the worsening problems of the middle, and the conflict resolution at the end. MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES ends with some tips for moving from outline to first draft and some exercises to increase productivity.

Strangely, Farland also includes the complete transcript of a story meeting held by Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan as they brainstormed the script for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m not sure why it’s included. These three men are smart, creative idea machines, but we already know that. To reprint an entire story conference feels like padding in a book that already seems a bit long. Each chapter of MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES is wonderful by itself, but when taken all together, they tend to become repetitive. Repeating details is okay for blog posts, but a book needs more careful editing. However, that’ s a minor criticism. Farland’s advice is so good, and his instruction so clear, that I could stand to hear much of it twice.

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rating: 4 stars

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pie slices: 8 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book.

2 thoughts on “Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

    • Yes, Farland is a writing teacher (as well as a famous writer) but I’m not sure if he wrote MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES to go with his classroom instruction. It doesn’t read like a textbook. It reads more like he took his blog posts and collected them for a book. In other words, quite conversational.

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