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  • Caitlyn Lynch

Non-Fiction Fridays Book Review: Fool Proof Outline by Christopher Downing

Full title: Fool Proof Outline: A No-Nonsense System for Productive Brainstorming, Outlining, & Drafting Novels - Christopher Downing

I’m going to start this with a note that if you’re a romance writer, the Fool Proof Outline Christopher Scott Downing has created for you to use in Scrivener or Excel isn’t going to work for you. It’s not suited to romance novels (except possibly suspense or paranormal which is heavier on the plot than the romance). However, though I don’t write them myself, I can see how this would work brilliantly for mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy and pretty much every other major genre of fiction. It’s perfectly laid out in terms of beats you’ll need to hit in your book, following a traditional nine-part plot structure. Romance beats work differently, which is why I’d recommend something like one of Jami Gold’s (free on her website) Scrivener templates or beat sheets instead.

With that said, even for romance novelists there is a TON of useful stuff in this book. Downing talks about how to take a basic plot point and flesh it out into scenes or a sequence of scenes, why you should always know what you’re going to write before you sit down to actually write it, and many other incredibly clever tips. Character creation is covered thoroughly, including motivations and actions and how they tie together, and Downing spends a lot of time talking about rising tension and how to handle high points and denouements.

A lot of people gripe about the traditional nine-part plot structure and how it’s ‘overused’, but I’m personally a big fan - and there’s a reason why pretty much every major box-office hit movie from the last decade follows it faithfully. It’s a story structure which appeals nicely to our brain’s desire for a satisfying, fulfilling story. The templates provided in this book really do help you create a plot from the vaguest of ideas and flesh it out into a thoroughly plotted arc, breaking it down further until you know exactly what you have to write in every single scene of your book.

If you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and you’re in a bit of a panic because you don’t really have a plot, I’d definitely suggest you grab this one*. You’ve still got a couple of weeks to follow it through and get prepared to write your novel!

Five stars for an excellent read full of solid advice and useful resources.

*For romance authors, I recommend Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot instead. I’ll be looking at that one in next week’s Non-Fiction Friday review!

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