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Fiction Writing Magic: Outlining And Connecting With Readers

Fiction Writing Magic: Outlining And Connecting With Readers

Readers have asked for more fiction writing tips on what to include when they’re outlining a novel. Here’s a big tip: connect with your plot, and with your characters. Sometimes, when we’re outlining, we focus on the plot so much that we forget why readers read.

Recently I’ve been working with an author who shocked me. She told me that she’s self-published three novels over three years, and has made NO sales at all. When I checked her books’ blurbs on Amazon (she’s published ebooks and paperbacks) I saw the problem immediately.

Plot, plot, and more plot, and no real connection to be found. Your stories need to connect with readers. This connection can be subtle, but as the saying goes, you know it when you see it. 🙂

Readers read for connection — they want to be drawn in to your novel, or short story… that connection MUST be there, in your blurb, and of course, in your outline, and in your books.

All very well, I’m sure you’re thinking… but how do you CONNECT?

Fiction writing tip: your fiction MUST connect with readers

Blurbs (book descriptions) to which readers connect sell books.

For example, the blurb for Nora Roberts’ novel Blue Smoke, begins:

Reena Hale has always understood the destructive power of fire.

Fire burns. We can relate. Just yesterday I burned my hand on a cast iron skillet. Ouch! (We’ll get to the senses and connection in a moment…)

Here’s another example, from the blurb for Joseph Finder’s novel, The Switch:

Michael Tanner is heading home from a business trip when he accidentally picks up the wrong laptop from security.

Have you ever picked up someone else’s bag? I haven’t, but last week I strolled into the supermarket car park, right up my car, and kept pressing the key in my hand in irritation.

Curses — why wasn’t the car unlocking?

Finally I realized. Heh, right color, make and model, but not my car…

We’ve all made similar mistakes. Finder makes a connection with readers, as Roberts does, in the first sentence of the blurb.

Want another example? Just check bestsellers. I defy you to find me a blurb which doesn’t connect with readers in some way. Here’s another example, this one is from David Baldacci’s End Game: A Will Robie Novel 5. And again, we find connection right in the first line of the blurb:

London is on red alert.

We connect with that. We watch the news of terrorist attacks in London, and we feel vulnerable too.

In this article on outlining fiction, I suggested that you start outlining with an image:

… start with an image: an image has built-in emotion – if you choose the right image. 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 add to that: start with an image to which you respond.


  • Think about the emotion the image inspires; and
  • Think about how that connects with readers; and
  • WRITE DOWN that connection in your outline.

1. Outlining: connect via conflict — remember emotions

Fiction is all conflict, all the time. It’s easy to forget the reader connection, and create melodrama.

Let’s say that you’re great with conflict. Everyone’s upset in your novel, and fighting with everyone else.

Good work. Now make an emotional connection with your character, a highly intelligent, 30-year-old, brand new detective. She’s been taken off a case. How does she feel? Add a note about those feelings, right in your outline for the scene.

Add another note: how do you want the reader to feel? If your detective is your primary point of view character, you want your reader to empathize with the character.

2. Look for opportunities for sensory writing in your outlines: connect via the senses

Readers will connect with your fiction if you provide sensory details.

Take a moment, and glance around the room, or around the plane or around the park… You’re somewhere, aren’t you? And as long as you’re awake, you’re aware of your environment, on some level. You’re using your senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch.

Proust’s madeleines (biscuits) are famous, because the sense of taste is linked to memory:

The madeleine anecdote is considered one of the key passages in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu or In Search of Lost Time. It is at the heart of the book’s main theme of involuntary memory…

Readers will connect if you make it easy for them to experience your characters’ environment, via the senses. Don’t describe everything, but do choose sensory details which connect with readers.

From Georgette Heyer’s Frederica:

Wiser counsels had not prevailed with Jane: she had been determined on roses and pink gauze; and as she had inherited her mother’s shrewish disposition, and was capable of sulking for days together, Lady Buxted had allowed her to have them.

If Heyer had written: “Jane sulked until she got a dress with roses and pink gauze,” it wouldn’t have the same impact. Nevertheless the “sulking” makes a connection with readers; we all know people like Jane who want their own way.

3. YOU are your fiction: connect to your characters, and to the events in your plot

You’re your fiction. No one else has your emotional makeup or experiences. You perceive the world differently from everyone else. So, in order to connect with readers, connect with your characters, via your imagination. Then get that connection onto the page. Readers will latch onto your fiction — you helped them to make a connection.

An author’s biggest danger when we create characters and plot, is forgetting to make a connection with our characters, and the disasters we create for them.

Once you begin looking for connections readers might make, you’ll find them in your writing and in others’, and will create them deliberately.

You’ll know that you’re doing it right when you have fun with your fiction. 🙂

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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Write A Novel: Include A Bestseller’s Vital Ingredient

Write A Novel: Include A Bestseller’s Vital Ingredient

You want to write a novel. You hope that it will sell well; that it will become a bestseller. I just checked, and the first five books on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestsellers’ list this week are all genre fiction: thrillers and crime fiction. These books, as do all books on bestseller lists, include a vital ingredient.

That ingredient is: drama.

Write a novel with drama

To write a novel which sells well, remember DRAMA while you write. Drama keeps readers reading.

Many books which are dramatic are quiet books; they don’t feature billion dollar bank heists and explosions. Pride and Prejudice, for example, which has been selling for 200 years, is a charming novel set primarily in a village in rural England.

So how do you add drama to your novel?

How to write a dramatic novel: write in scenes

Start with these elements:

  • A character with a problem he’s determined to solve
  • A setting
  • A story question

The story question is sometimes referred to as the “dramatic question”, which is misleading. To write a bestselling novel, you need drama on every page.

Check your novel now, and if you’ve written 250 words in which nothing much happens, correct that immediately — add some drama, every if it’s just a little bantering between two characters.

4 tips for writing dramatically

As we’ve said, drama needs to happen on every page of your novel. There are many ways you can do that. These tips will get you thinking.

  1. No one gets along. Every character in your novel has conflicts with other characters, or has internal conflicts.
  2. Description is used to reveal character. Again, consider Pride and Prejudice. When Jane Austen describes anything, she does it so that we can learn more about a character. For example, from Chapter 7: “The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner’s shop just over the way.”
  3. Focus on scenes. Jane Austen writes in scenes — this may be why she’s sold 20 million copies of Pride and Prejudice — it’s a very dramatic novel.
  4. You answer the story question, as well many many other questions which you raise along the way by creating open loops.

Want to write a bestseller? Check out: How To Write In Scenes… The Magical Secret To Writing Well And Selling More

Fiction: How To Write In Scenes
Fiction: How To Write In Scenes

Want to write wonderful stories readers love… fiction which SELLS? Our new program guides you in developing an amazing (and fun) fiction writing career: you’ll write better novels faster. You’ll also win fans who love your novels and are eager to buy them.

Read more.

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
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Self-Publishing: Write Today, Sell Tomorrow, With Short Stories

Self-Publishing: Write Today, Sell Tomorrow, With Short Stories

I love writing short stories because I’m a huge blogging fan. Blogging is instant publishing, and short stories are similar. You can write a short story today, and sell it tomorrow.

By the way, our Kindle Short Fiction Domination program is closing for good in a week. We’ve got upcoming releases, so you receive a special offering on our short story program until April 29.

“Yes, but readers don’t buy short stories in my genre…”

I often receive this response from authors when I suggest that they add short story writing to their self-publishing program. My response to that is always: “you will be surprised.”

Writing and publishing short stories is an efficient way to get more from your self-publishing efforts.

In this article, I suggested some of the ways in which you can use short fiction ebooks:

• They’re an easy way to make the switch to writing fiction;

• Short stories will boost your book sales on Amazon and elsewhere;

• You can build an email list, by offering a short story or two;

• Short fiction increases your visibility so you can build your author platform;

• It’s an easy way to develop a profitable career ghostwriting fiction for clients…

Write short stories fast: focus on scenes

The easiest way to write short stories (and novels, for that matter) is to focus on scenes.

My scenes average at around 1500 words. So for a short story, I aim at three scenes. I may write longer, but three scenes gives me a basic outline for a short story.

For more on writing in scenes, read Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips.

The first scene of a short story is the setup: introduce the story question

Your first scene is the setup for your short story: you introduce your characters, the situation, and the story question.

Your story question is the POINT of your novel. We discussed the story question in New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy:

The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers. In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:

  •  In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
  • In romances — will the boy get the girl?
  • In thrillers — will the hero save the world?

Your short story’s second scene: a big obstacle or three

You’ve set up your short story. Now it’s time to add an obstacle.

In your mystery, for example, your sleuth is questioning suspects when the killer strikes again…

The climax — all is lost, BUT… your hero comes through in scene three

Your third scene is the climax. In a mystery, your sleuth has made a huge mistake. The killer has turned the tables on the sleuth, who’s facing death.

Here’s a tip for writing short stories: your climax is everything. Set up the climax from the first line of your story.

After the climax, wind up your short story in a few sentences…

And you’re done.

Kindle Short Fiction Domination closes on April 29

We’ve got a lot of upcoming releases, so we’re clearing the decks. You receive a special offering on Kindle Short Fiction Domination until April 29, when the program will close for good. Enjoy.

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Write Fast, Write Well: How To Be Prolific, and Sell – Powerful tips to increase your writing income

Write Fast, Write Well: How To Be Prolific, and Sell – Powerful tips to increase your writing income

What If You Were Twice As Successful, Or Even THREE Times More Successful Than You Are Today? There's No Ceiling On A Writer's Income... You Just Need To Be Prolific. More info →
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