How to Outline a Novel – Part 1 – The Ideal Reader

First of all, welcome to the first in a series of articles on how to outline a novel. Many writers despise outlining, but it doesn’t always have to be something bad and tedious; it might as well be a creative and enjoyable process.

Disclaimer

Some writers don’t use any form of outlining. They just sit down and write. There is a popular term for those writers; they are called pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants.

I am not going argue whether it’s right or wrong approach to writing a novel. I am fine with whatever works for you and you should be, too.

This series is designed for people who cannot write without an outline but they have trouble making it. If you are not one of them, you might not want to read further because there might not be anything valuable to you.

If you, as a matter of fact, want to continue, you are more than welcome but don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you.

All bad stories go to hell

Before we actually dig into the outlining, we need to cover the essence of fiction writing and that is – telling a story. The very purpose of fiction writing is to tell a story which should emotionally engage your reader. 

Your story can be fun, magical, lyrical, full of actions, just name it, but if it doesn’t provoke emotions in your reader, it doesn’t work. It will be forgotten, your reader will never share it with his family or friends (at least not in the way you would like it to) and your story will be added to a sad pile of bad stories which main purpose is to keep the hell warm.

But, remember one thing, you don’t want to please just any reader. Your reader must be the ideal reader, the one that was waiting for you all this time. You can’t please everybody but you can please one ideal reader.

How do you pick the ideal reader?

Usually, it’s quite easy. For example, you can write for yourself.

If anything, you should know what kind of stories you like and therefore write a book which nobody has written before and become its first true fan. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anyone else bother in the first place?

Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be your present self. If you want to write children’s books or young adult books, but you are neither of those, you can always write for your past self, or if you could imagine what your taste in stories would look like in the future you can write for your future self.

Your reader can be someone you love

Your job as a storyteller is to seduce. Imagine yourself flirting with a person you are attracted to. You know exactly what kind of story to tell, am I right? Why don’t you try to write your stories in the same, seductive manner? Make your reader love, not necessarily you, but your story. Question what they want, what they expect and then add some twists and surprises to juice it up.

If you are thinking in a seductive manner then you’ve got yourself an ideal reader – a significant other. That’s right. Write to your partner or someone who you wish to become your partner. Why not writing for someone who cannot be your partner but you would want them to? They can be married or dead or not god knows what, it doesn’t matter as long as they are unreachable.

How about your family and friends

You can write to your friends or family if you know what kind of books they like. That requires being familiar with their taste. Ask them what kind of books and movies they like, if you don’t know already. They will be happy to chat on that topic. Everybody is.

Build them from Scratch

The last option is to build your reader from scratch? Why not? Like in that Sims game or in numerous fictions novels. Aren’t we the fiction writers? Therefore, we should be able to create a person with a specific taste in literature. 

Build a person who likes mysteries, murders, but isn’t quite a fan of love triangles, vampires, and other mystical creatures and write for them; or perhaps they do like the love triangles? Maybe they like medieval age, or let’s say they are fans of a modern age. It’s up to you to decide.

As long as you know what your ideal reader likes, whether they are real or fictional, it’s your job to please them. So, go on and create your ideal reader. Write down her name, occupation, and what kind of books they like and add as many details as you want. You can even include her photo. Why not?

Bonus – A FREE Ideal Reader Chart

As a bonus, I’ve designed a chart which you can fill with some details about your ideal reader. Ideally, you would want to fill in every detail but even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter as long as it works for you.

The more details you know about your reader, the easier it will be for you to imagine her and therefore please her.

I will list some of the questions I often ask about my ideal reader:

  • What’s her occupation?
  • What are her favorite books and movies?
  • What are her favorite genres?
  • What kind of humor does she like? Is she more into irony or perhaps toilet humor?
  • Is she an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Is she religious? You don’t want to insult her, remember.
  • Does she have any hobbies that you might stress in the book and help her to relate and emotionally connect with your character?
  • What’s her philosophy of life? Life is a struggle or live every day as if it is your last?
  • What fires her up in the story? Is it action, sex, dialog, humor, characters?
  • What brings her down? Love triangles? Marry Sue? Sex again? Profanity? Slang? Slow pace?
  • What can you do to give her something that she’s not expecting? A handsome villain instead of an ugly one with a scar? Unusual plot twist? The character doesn’t win in the end?

Feel free to add more details if you find them useful and ignore anything that you find useless.

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