Class: Demystifying Outlines

Instructor: Margaret Dunlap

Next class date: Saturday, March 26, 2022, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time. 

Outlines: some writers swear by them, some writers swear at them, some have sworn off them entirely.

I, Margaret Dunlap, became an outliner because outlines are an integral part of the television writing process. (It turns out, studios  want to see evidence that you’ve got a working story before they commit a million dollars or more to putting a group of writers’ hairbrained ideas into production.) Over five seasons as a writers assistant on four different series, I wrote more outlines than I probably should have been asked to, but I learned a lot doing it. What I took for granted at the time was that as I was learning, I always had a slew of examples I could reference, and a staff full of writers giving me notes when I got something wrong.

It wasn’t until I started collaborating with novelists that I realized there’s no equivalent resource for fiction writers.

So let’s pull back the drape and get into the guts of outlines. What are they? (It depends, what do you need it to be?) Do they have to have bullet points? (Not unless you find them useful.) Do they have to follow a set format? (Now that your English teacher isn’t reading it, probably not.) Is there a minimum length? A maximum one? (Nope! Although there are some practical upper and lower bounds to keep in mind.) Wouldn’t the time you spend on an outline be better used writing the actual story? (That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always writing my actual story.)

In this class, we’ll talk about outlining as part of an iterative writing process, whether it’s part of your pre-writing, a tool to turn to when you’re adrift in mid-draft, or a way to kick-start revisions after you’ve typed “the end.”

We’ll look at examples of different kinds of outlines and explore tips and tricks for incorporating story planning into your own creative process. We’ll also learn how to read an outline, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, and how to use it to spot a story’s pitfalls… and also its potential.

The phrase “write an outline” doesn’t have to trigger flashbacks to research papers, didactic English professors, or oceans of red ink. In fact, they’re a surprisingly flexible tool that you can learn to use to spark, rather than block, the creative process.

Margaret Dunlap is a writer for television, animation, new media, and fiction with credits that include The Middleman, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  Most relevant to this class, she was also part of the team behind Bookburners from Realm Media. Find her online at or on Twitter as @spyscribe.

Classes are limited to 15 students. They are taught online and require reliable Internet connection, although in the past participants have logged on from coffee shops, cafes, and even an airplane; a webcam is suggested but not required. They are recorded for the benefit of class members only.

Cost is $99 ($79 for Patreon supporters and former students, which includes classes/workshops with me in other venues, such as conference or convention workshops and mentoring sessions).

To register for this class, send an email with the following details:

  • Which class or classes and the dates you would like to register
  • Whether you would prefer to pay via Paypal, Venmo, or some other means.
  • Whether or not you are a former student or Patreon supporter
  • How you heard about Cat’s classes

You will be invoiced when the class slot is reserved.

Free scholarships: If you cannot afford a class but really want to take one, apply for a Plunkett Scholarship. Each class has three slots reserved for such students, and the sole criteria is only that you can’t currently afford the class. To apply for a Plunkett, which covers the entire cost,mail me and tell me why you want to take the class in 100 words or less. QUILTBAG and PoC candidates are especially encouraged to apply. The Plunkett Scholarships are named for Edward Plunkett, who wrote as Lord Dunsany. Scholarships are given out on a rolling basis; I suggest getting them in sooner rather than later. You may apply for multiple classes.

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