Hate writing outlines? If you’re a new author, do your best to write an outline anyway. If nothing else, an outline assures you that yes, by heavens, you’re writing a novel, rather than a mass of words.
The following tips will help.
Why outline? One simple reason: you’ll avoid a horrible fate… Unlike the vast majority of new authors, you’ll write a real novel, one that has a real story.
The most common new author pitfall: nothing happens
Here’s your challenge, if you’re a new author.
You must make something happen. Preferably on every page. Moreover, that “something” must be relevant — integral to your story.
Does that sound easy? It is. However, when you’re a new author, you’re all about the pretty words. Experienced authors don’t care about the words — they care about the story.
An experienced author knows that you can fix your word choices, scene construction and grammar, but if nothing happens in your novel, then you’ve just wasted all the time you spent writing.
1. Make something happen NOW
You’re a new author, so you want to start writing NOW.
If you go ahead anyway, please avoid these kinds of common and horrid novel beginnings…
- The “waking up in the morning” novel opening. Trust me, no one cares. As I’ve said before, if you don’t wake up with a space alien bending over you, or beside a corpse… we don’t care.
- “Poor me, I’m having SUCH a bad day…” — romance novelists love this opening. Sadly, similarly to the above, we don’t care. If your main female character spills hot coffee over her new silk blouse, rear-ends a car, gets fired… Nope, we don’t care.
- Please also avoid the “bang, bang, you’re dead…” — the dead bodies/ or car crash opening, loved by new thriller authors… We’re reading a novel, not the news, so we’re not interested in dead people before you’ve made us care about them.
An experienced author may have the skills to begin his novel with these kinds of first pages, but you don’t — attempt them later in your career.
Write your novel’s opening pages after you’ve outlined a real story.
Start by thinking about your novel as a STORY
Before you think about your novel’s first page, think about the novel, as a whole. What happens? What’s the story?
Now you have your title, it’s time to brainstorm a fantastically crazy situation.
Mysteries usually involve a crime of some sort, often murder. So, who’s your victim? Why was he/ she murdered?
How was he/ she murdered? Where was he/ she murdered?
At this stage, you don’t need a complete plot, you just need enough material to become enthusiastic and inspired.
Choose a genre (category) and dream up some situations which would be appropriate for the genre you’ve chosen.
Choose one situation.
2. Create your milestones: they’re the bones of your outline
After you’ve chosen a situation, list your milestones:
• The setup (at the 25 per cent point of the novel);
• The midpoint, where everything changes, at 50 per cent;
• The OOPS milestone: the kick in the pants. Think of it as a sharp jolt, or the dark moment. It occurs at the 80 per cent point.
This article tells you about milestones; I don’t want to repeat the information here.
3. Choose your Point of View character: your novel starts when his life changes
Well done, new author! You’ve got the bare bones of a real story.
Next, choose your primary character, your Point of View (POV) person — the one through whose experiences you’ll tell your story.
For example, in a mystery, your POV character is usually the sleuth. In a romance, the female protagonist is your POV person.
You may even choose to create an “unreliable” main character. An unreliable POV character is common in psychological thrillers.
Plot out several scenes, new author, then start writing
Got your main story, and POV character? Excellent. Note down a couple of scenes in your outline, if you wish.
Alternatively, just start writing.
Your process will probably change with each novel. My goal is always to start writing as soon as I have an intriguing idea for a story, plus a main character, because I know that new ideas will develop while I write.
You may want to develop your outline further. Whatever you choose… onward. 🙂
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