Outlines, AI and Stormy Daniels

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From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

I’d been planning to write my April post about outlines.

Which authors do outlines? And which ones don’t?

(I don’t and neither does Anne).

I’d done a bit of research and made some notes when along came AI, the hot new kid in town.

How could I ignore AI when everyday I was almost buried by an avalanche of news about AI, how to use it, and how it was going to revolutionize everything.

And put writers out of business.


Hold my beer.

Does s/he? Or doesn’t s/he?

Dean Wesley Smith does not outline: His book, Writing into the Dark, goes into the details of his process.

Neither does Nora Roberts. “I don’t plot. I don’t sit down and plot a book. It sort of unreels as I write.”

James Patterson outlines. Does he ever!

Daniel Silva doesn’t. “I have just never been able to outline. I just can’t bring a story to life on note cards, never have been able to….To me, it’s just a waste of time. My first draft is, in effect, the outline. If you do it long enough, you know that it becomes second nature—how you bring a character on the page, and this is what’s really going on—so I write it at one level but I have a much deeper understanding about what will happen later.”

Lisa Scottoline: “I just get writing. I don’t outline. I don’t know what the story is going to be until I get it down on paper. At the end, hopefully, I see I have a story. And then I’m the happiest person on the planet.”

Harlan Coben:  “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan or stopover in Tokyo… but I’ll end up in California.”

At this point along came AI.

I asked it to write a blogpost about writers who do — and don’t — outline.

Here’s the result:

AI chimes in on Outlines.

When it comes to the writing process, every author has their own unique approach. Some writers meticulously plan out their stories with outlines, while others prefer to let their creativity flow freely without a rigid structure.

In this blogpost, we will explore famous writers who have used outlines in their work, as well as those who have chosen to forgo this method.

Famous Writers Who Use Outlines:

J.K. Rowling –

The world-famous author of the “Harry Potter” series is known for her meticulous planning and outlining. In fact, Rowling is known to have created extensive outlines for each of her seven books in the series before she even started writing the first one. Her outlines included detailed plot points, character arcs, and even diagrams of the Hogwarts castle. Rowling’s use of outlines allowed her to carefully plot out the complex storylines and foreshadowing that are integral to the “Harry Potter” series.

Dan Brown –

The best-selling author of “The Da Vinci Code” and other popular thrillers is known for his meticulous research and detailed outlines. Brown’s books are known for their intricate plots and historical references, and he uses outlines to carefully plan out the complex storylines and clues that make his novels so thrilling. Brown’s outlines often include detailed descriptions of locations, historical events, and clues that his protagonist must unravel, helping him create a fast-paced and engaging reading experience for his readers.

Stephen King –

Although he is known for his spontaneous and free-flowing writing style, Stephen King has also used outlines in some of his works. King has mentioned in interviews that he uses a loose outline to guide him through the writing process, particularly when working on longer novels with multiple plotlines. King’s outlines are not as detailed as those of other writers, but they serve as a rough roadmap that helps him stay on track while still leaving room for his creativity to flow.

George R.R. Martin –

The author of the epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which inspired the television series “Game of Thrones,” is known for his intricate world-building and complex plotlines. Martin has stated that he uses extensive outlines to plan out the intricate politics, alliances, and conflicts that make up his fantasy world. His outlines often include detailed descriptions of characters, their motivations, and how they fit into the larger story. Martin’s use of outlines allows him to keep track of the numerous characters and storylines in his novels, which are known for their intricate and interwoven plots.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

12 thoughts on “Outlines, AI and Stormy Daniels”

  1. Worth noting is that the part of the OP where that statement occurs was written by an AI, not the writer of the piece.

    • Very much worth noting.

      The current generation of so-called AI is not intelligent; it merely looks for patterns in data, without having any conception of the reality that the data may represent. Think of ChatGPT and its cousins as extremely well-read parrots, and you will not be far off the mark.

      • At their best, chatbots quote authoritatively.
        At their worst, they fake it.
        Takes some critical thinking to figure out which is which.

        Thing is, the whole pattern matching inference/replication thing is both useful and valuable in *other* applications. But the handwringers are so obssessed with words they’re missing the whole point.

        Their loss.

        • This is true.

          I posit that the principal problem is this:

          Chatbots don’t actually know anything, but they are very good at being glib. The average journalist nowadays is in much the same position vis-à-vis the topics he or she is assigned to cover. Of course journalists are going to feel threatened by a machine that can out-glib them. And they have the means to ensure that their feelings are widely heard.

          • My subconscious just surfaced a concise description of what now ails us: The Cult of Words.

            Propaganda, disinformation, empty-headed politicians, identity wars, and AI fearmongering all stem from the belief of the supremacy of words over reality. Magical spells, essentially. They think words can reshape reality.

            To which I reply: “Expelliarmus!” 😉

          • Just as confirmation that chatbots are essentially bullshitters. A quote from a paper examining their answers that was recently posted on arXiv (doi.org/j7v6) reads as follows:

            “… citation recall and precision are inversely correlated with fluency and perceived utility—the responses that seem more helpful are often those with more unsupported statements or inaccurate citations”.

        • And this just popped up about “AI” in movies, contrasting different uses and attitudes, notably Keanu Reeves and Harrison Ford:


          The embedded image tells a story by itself. While the picture is an example of a “Big Data” financial projection tool for Hollywood execs, the projected numbers for the three actresses tell a story all their own about how acting talent alone doesn’t determined their “bankability”, aka “star power”.

          TL:DR – Industries are using the new software tech to make millions upon millions in areas that have nothing to do with chatbots or world domination, with the con$ent of the humans being copied. 😉

          Grimes’ approach is particularly interesting.

  2. I had to snort at one statement:

    “The best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code and other popular thrillers is known for his meticulous research and detailed outlines.” (typography corrected)

    Better and more accurate would be that Brown uses “research and detailed outlines”… according to the English court system, it was others’ work. The courts found that didn’t do his own research, and his researcher didn’t keep sourcing notes (nor was she particularly “meticulous”). The “outline” was largely similar to a similar-to-conspiracy-theory nonfiction book. (Brown escaped most liability for other reasons, but he’d better hope he never has to testify in a UK court again.) Baigent v. Random House, [2006] Eng. & Wales High Ct. 719, aff’d, [2007] Eng. & Wales Ct. App. 247.

    Brown is far from the only, or worst, “offender” — in general or on the OP’s list. I really wish the OP had, umm, done more meticulous research — and not taken authors’ oft-self-created reputations for the methods as absolutely true in the face of what other research discloses.

    The OP would have been more valuable on the middle question: How closely does an author follow his/her/their outline (even just the beginnings of ideas in the head combined with a grasp of the character, as Dean Smith has repeatedly explained)? And how do they deviate? At least two of the authors listed should be confronted some time by a Perry-Mason-like cross-examination: “So, BigNameWriter, explain to the jury why you didn’t deviate from the outline at this point, when it was clear to even a Hollywood executive that it had veered into an ‘idiot plot’?”

    • How can one “deviate from an outline” when one doesn’t use an outline at all? I’ve written over 70 novels, 9 novellas, and well over 200 short stories without an outline. (Although before I discovered writing into the dark by DWS I DID outline a novel for almost three years. I still haven’t written it.)

      Many MANY times I’ve written a short story or novel that begins only with a character with a problem in a setting. I trust the characters to convey the authentic story that they, not I, are living. You cannot accurately “plot” something that hasn’t happened yet, even your own life.

      To plot a story for my characters would be the same thing as laying-out a minute by minute itinerary from which they are not allowed to deviate for the neighbors who are going to take a safari trip to the savannah of Africa. Ridiculous, and more than a little control-freakish.

      And the same goes for revising and rewriting: I would no more correct my characters’ version of their story than I would interrupt and correct those neighbors upon their return when they endeavor to tell me about their trip.

      If you believe succumbing to unreasoning fears of “failure” and outlining, revising, rewriting and other conscious, critical mind endeavors are essential in writing fiction (as does probably almost everyone else in the world), go for it. But automatically assuming that “How closely do you follow your outline or how far do you deviate from it” is a valid question for all fiction writers is a mistake.

    • Is there any reason to think outlines can’t change? What?

      Is there any reason to think the creativity that goes into following a character by typing words cannot also be applied to following the character through an outline? What?

      I outline and plot. Best of luck to anyone who takes a different path.

    • I apparently wasn’t clear enough:

      Whether one uses an outline (or not), no plan survives contact with the enemy — and, correspondingly, no initial vision (however vague) survives contact with the keyboard. My last paragraph is trying to point out that the OP answered the trivial question of “whether an outline is used” instead of the harder question of “how is the outline/initial vision used/deviated from.” And it’s that harder question that gets punted every expletive-deleted time one asks an author who’s pontificating on the issue. This is the difference between “forensic science as seen on CSI” and “being confronted with a crime scene” (and if, in the course of copyright litigation, you’d ever been confronted with some materials for, well, Well-Known Novels, you’d know why I say “crime scene”).

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