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. 🙂
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 →
You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell.More info →
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