Posts Tagged ‘a different approach to outlining a novel’

Stuck for an Novel Idea? Try this.

June 15, 2008 Leave a comment

If you are a writer…and even if you aren’t a writer, there comes a day when you face a blank piece of paper or the glaring whiteness of a blank computer page.  I’m sure you’ve heard the “write what you know about” and still find yourself scratching your head for a topic or theme. 

Why not start here?  Instead of trying to pick a theme or topic, another approach is to define who you would like to read whatever you want to write.   Is it for men?  Women?  Both genders?  For fishing lovers?  Baseball fans?  You get the idea.

Once you get the demographics down, think about what that group of people would like to read about, if you were one of the group.  Oh no, you don’t know anything about that topic?   It is easier to write about something you know, so now your task is to get to know something about whatever you’ve chosen.  Do the research.  Get to know people in the field.  Ask questions. People love to talk about what they know best.  And most people I’ve found are very generous with their time when they trust you.  (and in the process, you might discover a new best friend.  How cool is that?)

While you are interviewing, listen carefully, because the people will tell you stories and subtext, which you will convert into sidebars.  Since I am focusing on novel writing, these stories become your subplots.   You have a bunch of notes, story clips, venue descriptions and vocabulary (topic jargon) at your disposal.  This information is the basis for your skeletal outline.

If you didn’t find story lines in your interviews, you either didn’t ask enough questions, not listening hard enough, or couldn’t get the person to open up.  If this is the case, while you are honing your interviewing skills, find subplots from newspaper and magazine articles (things that happen in everyday).

Now you’ve got the bits and pieces.  Take what you now know and see if you can find a common denominator for a theme.  It could be forgiveness, courage, or love.  See how the main plot and the subplots highlight the theme.  Write it down because if you are like me, brilliance only strikes once.

Once you got this in place, you can start breathing life into your characters.  Do character sketches so you have a backstory and motivation.  Remember each major character must have a goal.  Since goal to me sounds so clinical, I prefer calling it a yearning, something that the character must have to make him or herself feel happy, satisfied or whole.

Whatever you call it, make sure the yearning is clear.  This is what is going to have the readers hooked.  We readers want the feeling of rooting for the character.  We can identify with that void and need to have it fulfilled.

Good luck and let me know how this works for you.