If you’re new to writing fiction, you may be struggling with outlines. You may even believe that you can’t create outlines – or that you don’t need to outline. You may be right. Maybe you’ll get a flush of inspiration, and your book “writes itself.” That’s never happened to me, nor to any other writer I know, but it could happen. 🙂
Let’s look at some fiction writing tips for beginners. I’ve had lots of questions from readers of our Fab Freelance Writing Blog who are itching to try fiction, but aren’t sure whether they can; I said:
Here’s what’s always worked for me, and works for my students when they’re not sure whether they can write something or other. If you THINK you can, and you WANT TO, you can. What counts is your enthusiasm and excitement.
So, if you think you can, you can.
1. Start With an Image.
I like to start my fiction with an image, rather than a bunch of words. In How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps, I said:
You can start with a real image, if you like. Bestselling novelist Tracy Chevalier received her inspiration for her bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring from Vermeer’s painting. I like starting with an image because a good painting or photograph conveys emotion; you can extrapolate a whole story from that.
Or, you can start with a mental image of a character who’s wonderful, but has a silly hangup (or a more serious one, but your story will need to be longer). She/ he gets over the hangup by the end of the story.
Why start with an image? Because it’s less restrictive. It opens your imagination; words tend to close it.
Here’s another reason to 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.
You may get an idea for a story. Let’s say that we’re writing New Adult fiction. Our heroine falls in love with someone she’s only “met” on Facebook. Unfortunately, she’s fallen in love with someone who doesn’t exist. Someone created a fake profile, specifically to lure her into a trap.
2. Make a Simple List.
You’ve got a little idea, and an image you’ve found in a magazine, or you’ve copied an image from Pinterest or an art gallery website.
Before you start writing to expand your idea, make a list of nouns. Any nouns which arouse emotion in you. Ray Bradbury was very fond of lists, and I am too.
They poke your subconscious mind and wake it up, and that’s all you want at this stage.
3. Create a Logline From What You Have.
A “logline” is a single sentence which tells your story. Grab any TV program guide to get a sense of loglines. A logline tells you who, what, how, and why.
Here’s a great little template for a logline:
When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].
So, for our Facebook “fake” story, we could write:
When her boyfriend is murdered, 20-year-old college student Holly West must solve the mystery of her fake Facebook boyfriend or else take the chance that the murderer will come after her.
OK, I know it’s crappy, but work with me here. 🙂 I haven’t gone through the steps. I haven’t found an image, nor did I make a list. I just worked with the original seed of an idea, and can up with a quick logline. You’ll be able to do much better; just go through the steps.
4. Start writing: outline your scenes as you write.
You may love outlines. If your creativity gets sparked by outlining, go ahead and write an outline now. Forget formal outlines like the ones you created in school, make a list of scenes. I use index cards, and Trello.
I’m a pantser at heart, so I usually start writing, once I have the logline. I want to get to know my characters. Once I’ve written a couple of scenes, I interview the hero and heroine, and then I outline the BIG scenes — the pinch points, if you’re working with 7-point plotting. Then I start writing again, outlining just a few scenes ahead.
If you’re new to writing fiction, try working with an image, making a list of nouns, and creating a logline from your initial idea. This is a super-easy way to outline, and to write fiction which sells.
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Updated: May 16, 2016