I’ve had some questions about how to write fast fiction: that is, how to write a novel or short story quickly, without ending up with a horrible mess. The answer: outline for emotion. If your story has emotional coherence, readers will forgive you almost anything because you’ve given them a wonderful experience.
Let’s say you’ve got an idea for a novel. Your heroine is an ordinary woman with an ordinary life. She wakes up one day to a complete nightmare. The house is empty, except for her personal possessions, her clothes, and her bed. Where’s her husband, and where are her children? This idea has hints of the movie Double Jeopardy, but whatever.
Important: Think in Scenes
So, once you’ve got your basic idea, start making a list of scenes. I use the cork board in Scrivener. A spreadsheet also works.
Outlining Your Scenes Helps You to Write Faster
It’s easy to shape an idea if you think in scenes. Fiction is all about emotions, for the writer, and the reader. Consider the emotions you want your reader to feel. Keep reminding yourself of the emotions as you write – this will soon become automatic. I’ve found that if I’m getting bored as I write, it’s always because I’ve lost the emotional thread. Throw in more conflict. Make your characters fight for what they want.
Tell yourself your story in a paragraph or two, then map the turning points. Your story will have several turning points, so you outline from point to point:
- First turning point: after the setup (around chapter four, or scene four if you’re writing a shorter piece)
- The midpoint
- Three quarter point: you’re setting up the dark moment
- The climax: the story’s final battle
Write quickly. Don’t think about it too much; you don’t know your characters yet. You’re just getting the bones of a story down. Think of this scene list as preliminary sketches. Nothing is set in stone.
Next, create character sketches of your primary two or three characters, with their emotional arcs. Each character starts off at point A. He ends his emotional journey at point J.
For example, in our story idea above, we’ve got our heroine, Madeline. At the beginning of the story she’s at emotional point A, the ordinary world if you’re using the Hero’s Journey. She loves her life with her family. She’s a little worried about her husband, Jack. He’s working long hours. In each scene, Madeline’s emotional arc develops a little more, as lies are exposed. Madeline’s lies to herself are exposed too.
When you’re creating character sketches, consider which events in a character’s backstory get him to emotional point A, and help him to build towards emotional point J.
Tip: forget creating character bios. No one cares if Madeline likes pizza. Focus on your character’s strengths and weaknesses. You need to know what they are, so you can build your scenes.
All Done? Outline a Scene Just Before You Start Writing
After you’ve developed some basic scenes and the turning points, it’s time to start writing. I outline each scene just before I write it. I decide what I want to have happen in the scene, and what I want the reader to feel — what emotions. (Write this down – making notes will help you later, in revision and editing.)
Then I write the first couple of sentences in the scene, and the final sentences. I zoom through the scene, writing as fast as I can. This usually means writing dialogue. Then I go back to the beginning and “paint” the scene. I build the scene up, adding as much or as little as I want to, in this draft.
Each scene will change your character’s emotions. Keep asking yourself what your character’s feeling, and then show the feeling. If a character surprises you with his reactions, that’s wonderful.
So, there we have it. You can write fast, and will create excellent fiction, when you outline for emotion.