For new authors, fiction outlines can seem intimidating. Authors ask: “Do I really need an outline?”
The answer’s unsatisfactory; it’s both yes, and no.
Occasionally the fiction gods may smile on you. You start writing and it’s like you’re taking dictation from the muse. Words flow from your fingertips. You barely glance at your outline; you know that your book’s on track.
Although this wonderful process can happen — it’s happened to me twice — it’s best not to rely on it, because you’ll spend too much time procrastinating.
There’s hope however, if you hate outlines. Whether you outline extensively or don’t — if you use emotion as a compass your novel will satisfy readers.
Fiction outlines: focus on the emotion
We looked at the importance of genre with location, location:
Whatever you’re writing, knowing and showing your genre/ category is essential, because you’re orienting readers — they know what they’re getting.
Emotion is equally important as genre, because you need to be aware of the emotions you want to arouse in readers from your very first word. Indeed, your genre is your BIG clue to the emotions you’ll develop in your novel.
As we said in Fiction Writing Tips for Beginners: Super-Easy Outlines:
Fiction is all about emotion. No emotion? You’ve got nothing. Your idea, no matter how wonderful, will fizzle out. Or you’ll have a bunch of weird emotions tumbling around, which you can’t get a handle on… and the novel or short story fizzles out.
Let’s look at some tips which will help you to conquer fiction outlines.
1. Genre is your clue to emotions and your outline
Currently I’m writing an historical mystery. The novel started slowly and continued going slowly for 20,000 words. I hated my outline; the characters remained wooden.
Luckily this novel is #5 in an eight-novel series. (Discover why series are a good thing in Write HOT Mystery, Thriller & Suspense.)
Since there’s an over-arching plot for the series it dawned on me that I could bring back a character from novel #2. As soon as I installed the character with a single new scene and tweaked a few other scenes, the novel came alive. Not only did the nascent plot start growing in all directions, the characters came alive too.
Here’s why: emotion. Somehow I’d managed to forget the importance of emotion. I lost the plot so to speak because I’d focused solely on the outline.
This contretemps reminded me about the importance of emotion. It’s a clue about fiction outlines in general — no matter how wonderful your plot and outline, without emotion you have nothing.
2. Avoid insta-love (romances) and other annoyances: use emotions as your guide
In real life, emotions change for no reason. You’re feeling wonderful. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. Suddenly, almost from one moment to the next, you’re wallowing in misery.
That’s real life. In fiction, your characters’ emotions must make sense. When you read romance novel reviews, you’ll see readers complaining about “insta love”; hero and heroine hate each other; then it’s love all around in a mere instant.
Plot out your characters’ emotions carefully.
Let’s say that in your novel a character starts a new job. Within three chapters, he hates the job — he must, for your plot to make sense. But — what happened? You plot out the steps from his initial excitement about the job to hatred. You show incidents involving an overbearing supervisor and back-biting and credit-stealing colleagues.
Well done. However, you need to ensure that your character’s emotions keep pace as he slowly realizes that he needs to quit his job. His fiancée’s father owns the company, so extricating himself will be tricky.
3. Remember suspense: it’s your best emotion in every genre
I love open loops; they’re an excellent strategy for engendering suspense. In Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive, we said:
Many novels use a rapid cutting technique of a series of cliffhangers — open loops. The author places a character in a tough spot, and leaves him there for a few scenes. When the author returns and rescues the character, he’s closing that loop, so he immediately opens another one.
Use open loops. When you close one loop, ensure that you open another. Readers want to know what happens, so they keep reading.
Fiction outlines for pantsers: outline as you go
When you remember emotion you can pants as much as you like. I’m an inveterate pantser. When I write outlines before I start writing I never go back to look at them.
Instead, I write mini-outlines for scenes as I go, focusing on what each character feels in a scene, and why he feels that way.
You’ll have FUN with your fiction outlines when you remember emotions, and that’s always a good thing. 🙂
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