Outlining Fiction: 6 Tips For Writers Who Hate Outlines
“Hate outlines? I know many writers do, because I often get questions about outlining fiction. It’s a real challenge for many writers, and I sympathize. Way back in the 1970s when I started writing fiction I hated outlines with a passion.
That was way before Amazon and ebooks, so if I wanted to sell my novels to publishers, I had to outline. When I whined about it my literary agent at the time told ‘me: “just write an outline. You don’t have to follow it.‘
Outlining fiction: do it YOUR way
That was the best advice I’ve ever received: you don’t have to follow your outline. Your outline is just a way to make your novel real to you. Over the years, I’ve pantsed/ outlined my way to many, many novels. These days, I rarely think about outlining at all. It seems as if my outlines just magically appear — I think about a novel, and before I know it, I’ve created a workable outline. 🙂
It will happen for you too — persist with your own method of outlining, and sooner or later, writing novels (and nonfiction too) will be easier, because you will outline automatically.
So let’s look at five tips which will help if you hate outlines, so that you can find a process that works for you. No stress. As my agent pointed out, you don’t have to follow the outline you created. You almost certainly won’t, because a good outline kickstarts your thinking. Your completed novel will be much better than it would have been without an outline.
1. Start with text: your creative brain thinks in images, not linear outlines
Want to outline? Just start writing.
Yes… I know it sounds simple, but stick with me.
Let’s say that you’re writing a romantic mystery novel, with a super-glamorous billionaire. Or whatever you like. Choose your favorite genre.
Click your timer, and write for five minutes. Start off this way: ‘I’m writing a romantic mystery, with billionaire. My heroine is Tessy Anne Smith. She’s just won an internship at the hottest public relations company in New York city. She’s scared she won’t fit in… yadda yadda…’
Not an idea in your head? That’s OK.
Use this simple character template:
Name + Age + Occupation + Major Attribute + (optional) Big Problem
Viz: Tessy Anne Smith, 21, PR intern, ambitious — big problem: evicted from her apartment, staying with friends.
Another example: Megan Summers, 31, resident at a city hospital, loves medicine — big problem: someone’s killing patients. She’s blamed.
Tip: stop TRYING. Just write. Allow words pop into your head, without judgement, and without trying to edit. Focus on quantity. You’ll get quality out of it.”