Book Review: Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

I’m thrilled to be part of author David Farland’s blog tour for his latest book on the art of writing.  I’m an avid reader of his Daily Kick in the Pants series, discovering in them small details that help me polish and refine my stories.  Mr. Farland’s books on writing deserve a place right next to your computer, available for reference while you create your masterpiece.

This bonus post is the first of three posts this week.  Today I’ll review Million Dollar Outlines, published in January 2013.  My scheduled post, tomorrow, will be a guest article written by Mr. Farland on a major Plotting Tool you can use to create a novel that resonates with your audience.  And on Thursday, come on back for a second bonus post, my review of his book, Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing, published in December 2012.


If you knew that an editor once made a study and discovered people didn’t choose books based on the back cover blurb, but rather on a quick scan of the first three pages, would you want to know how to write those pages to grab your reader’s interest?  And if you knew that “…some 90% of the buyers read only the FIRST page,” would that inspire you to create an outline for your next manuscript?

I couldn’t begin my writing process with an outline to save my life.  But I know the value of outlining (which I do at later points) to verify the flow and rhythm of a story.

It’s a foreign concept to many beginning writers and to some pantsers, but organizing your story, at some point in the process, helps you add meat and heft to it in all the right places.

Million Dollar OutlinesIn Million Dollar Outlines, David Farland doesn’t just provide the steps for outlining a story.  He presents in detail, and with examples, how the writer must discover essential information about his characters and their needs in order to create an outline which eventually becomes the cornerstone of the story.

As a writer who’s written her way into a corner more than once, I recognize the concepts laid out by Farland as master tools for building stronger writing skills on the road to being published.  In approximately 242 pages (Kindle version), he leads us on a journey of discovery from defining the reason we write, to an appendix in which the reader finds a link to an intriguing transcription (free download) of the forty-five hours of brainstorming between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan, that became the outline of the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition).

If the reader peruses the Table of Contents for Million Dollar Outlinesand decides the first three sections have no relation to outlining a story, he may find it difficult to complete a contract-winning outline without that knowledge.

What Makes a Bestselling Story (Section One) helps us define what readers expect when they purchase our books.  Without understanding what our readers want, we could write a brilliant manuscript that no one would read.

Section Two: Identify the Elements That Help You Plot Your Story, reminds us that it is the varying emotions of our characters that draw our audience in and create the flow of the story.

Farland tells us, and then shows us, how each component of storytelling is essential to engaging our audience’s attention and concern.  Pay less then close attention to any one of these points, and we will likely find ourselves struggling to backfill holes in the plot and character development.  The more we, the writer, understand exactly who our characters are, the more we understand their conflicts and motivations, the richer and fuller our stories will be.  Without the “what,” “where,” and “why,” our audience will feel that the story is incomplete or will not care what happens to the characters.

As he leads us step-by-step through the process of discovering the story within our original idea, Farland shows how these processes build upon each other to create the outline by referencing work by popular authors.

Once the research steps are complete, and the plotting tools employed, the process of fleshing out the outline begins.  The third section of this book, The Plotting Process, employs twenty-eight Novel Plotting Tools to help the writer add substance and emotion to a manuscript.  And in this section we learn the ten steps Farland employs in outlining his very successful screenplays, the fantasy The Runelords, and Mummy Universes series, and his science fiction and Star Wars books (under his own name, Dave Wolverton).  Here he ties together everything he has discussed in the previous sections.  Everything he has brainstormed, considered, and defined about his characters, setting, and conflicts finds a place on his outline.

One point I personally found immensely helpful, is his reminder that the outline, just as will the manuscript, goes through numerous iterations before he has his final draft of the outline.

And yes, we may already know at least some of these aspects of our writing craft, but we sometimes need a reminder that it is in deliberately and repeatedly applying them to the writing process that we actually create a story that will appeal to our audience.  And that is our ultimate goal, isn’t it?

This book takes its place on my shelf of Invaluable Reference Books.  I know I’ll be returning to it often.  By the way, Mr. Farland, are you planning a paperback edition for those of us who love to thumb through a physical product?  Please?

Check out and sign up for his free “Daily Kicks in the Pants” for more motivation and inspiration delivered with astute writing tips.  You’ll be glad you did.


Click on any of the links to Million Dollar Outlines in this post to purchase a copy for yourself (affiliate links to books and movie).  Remember, you don’t have to own a Kindle in order to enjoy these eBooks.  Just download the free Kindle Reading app from Amazon and enjoy.


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