So You Wanna Outline Your Next Novel? Where Do You start?

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Where do you begin your novel plotting journey? Let’s see if Fräulein Maria has any advice about learning a new skill.

“Let’s start at the very beginning,” she warbles while sitting on a rock in the middle of nowhere. “A very good place to start.”

Well, you can’t fault advice like that! She goes on to say:

“When you read you begin with A-B-C,
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi”

In short, you start with the basics!

But if that’s the case, where then do you start with the novel?

The answer to that is marketing, of course!

Know your target audience: marketing considerations, part one

In his writing guide, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson suggests you begin by imagining your reader.

Is she a woman? Is she a man?

Old? Young?

A teenybopper or a tyke?

Most writers will think, me! That I am my own target audience [see note]. After all, I’m not an anomaly- not much of one anyway- which means other readers just like me exist out there in the world. They will read what I write because in some sense they are me.

That’s sound thinking.

But I’d say this is the wrong way of looking at marketing. Publishing prefers clear-cut borders, and to see these borders structurally, and in the flesh, one can simply go to their local Barnes and Noble and see for themselves. There you will observe books split by age demographics: Adult, Young Adult (YA), Children. And also, by category: fiction and non-fiction being the two largest divisions. According to Ingermanson, old people only read non-fiction.

Of course, we know real readers don’t inhabit any such boundaries. Adult readers happily read YA and sometimes children’s books. Teenagers read books written for adults. And some children read YA or adult fiction. Heck, some kids read non-fiction. I certainly did when I was a wee child.

Anyway, Ingermanson suggests that there are psychological benefits to imagining your ideal reader. Chief among these is that their imaginary existence will provide much-needed motivational fuel as you tread the long path of completing your manuscript. They will also look over your shoulder as you scribble or type, hoping to be satisfied with the content of your output. Which leads us to reader expectations.

Know your genre: marketing considerations, part two

The next thing a writer must consider when using the Snowflake Method is their novel’s genre.

As there is an unfortunate association between genre and the target reader’s gender (and possibly age), oftentimes, your chosen genre will determine who your book’s audience will be. It will also determine what the cover of your book will look like. Will it be a man dashing into the shadows or a bare-chested buck striking a manly pose?

More importantly, when it comes to writing the actual book, genre conventions will have to be met. The choice will set what the basics of your novel’s story will be: how the narrative unfolds. Let’s hope that we writers have a basic knowledge about our most basic readers. As someone who reads widely, I often feel that my knowledge about genre expectations is inadequate.

But what about me?

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to try outlining three different novels. The first step of snowflaking is to write a 25-words or less, single sentence that states your book’s genre and its basic premise. Mine were all varieties of horror: a paranormal mystery, a slasher thriller, and a literary horror. The premises all fell within a word count of 22 to 28 words. So, mission accomplished!

Also, as a bonus, I jotted down comp titles, which means I now know just where Barnes and Noble will shelve my books.

So basic marketing done!

Thank you for reading. This is post two in a series on becoming a plotter. Come back to see if this dyed in the wool x-treme pantser can change their spots. 

Note: Ingermanson’s Goldilocks character says that her target audience is everyone. My silly answer to that question would be, anyone who likes a good story. I suppose my response is part and parcel to reading widely, across genres. I approach books with few story content expectations.

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