Outlining with Brooks and Da Vinci

Da Vinci, Master Outliner
Da Vinci, Master Outliner

“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” –Leonardo da Vinci

“Outline, outline, outline.” –Terry Brooks

I’m finally finishing revisions on my novel The Extra: A 1934 Hollywoodland Mystery, wherein two Vancouver girls run away to Hollywood in 1934 to become movie stars, only to discover the dead body of a famous actor on their living room sofa. I’ll bet I’ve written and rewritten it half a dozen times. The trouble was that when I began writing The Extra, I didn’t much like outlining. Oh, I had an outline in my mind Sort of.  Certainly, I





Was                                                                          Go


There are enormous sections of that book that languish unemployed in dozens of Moleskines.

During the course of these revisions, I began outlining each character’s growth over the arc. I learned to outline the whole narrative, the section, the chapter and the scene. I developed graphic organizers for outlining. I learned to love outlining (I’m a sucker for graphic organizers). Meanwhile, three years into revising The Extra, I began a second mystery series, Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries. Working from outlines from the very beginning this time, I finished the first omnibus in good time and am nearing the end of the second volume in that series.

I’ve just about got the last chapter of The Extra right at last. Fortunately, I never got tired of my hero Frankie Ray or her struggles to clear her name and escape the electric chair.

But it’s a shame to waste that kind of time. The I-could-have-written-eight-other-books kind of time. More planning, less drafting. Da VInci said it: ”He who thinks little errs much.”  In a workshop I attended, Terry Brooks said it at least as well: “Outline, outline, outline.”

One thought on “Outlining with Brooks and Da Vinci

  1. Not many writers can quote Da Vinci and Terry Brooks in the same blog! Who knew they were both gurus of time management? I’m going off now to follow your good advice, Mel, and maybe go through a few of my own moleskines…

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