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NaNoWriMo Tips Series (#1): Plotting

I will tell you firsthand I'm not sure how people make it to 50,000 words without outlining a novel first. Yes "pansers" I'm talking to you and humbly bowing down at the same time. Don't get me wrong, if you can pants your way through NaNo then by all means do what works. But if you'd like to change your method, even a little bit and plot beforehand, then read on.

NaNoWriMo runs during the extremely hectic month of November in which we all are particularly busy with the holiday season and our lives so of course it's hard to fathom carving out any time to write, let alone writing 50,000 words. That's why before NaNo starts I plot a lot so I can skip around to different scenes when I'm under the gun to write a daily word count. It's been my experience, after winning both years I tried, that if I have a scene to write, I can keep pushing toward the 50,000 word count with enthusiasm. Resource: Writers Digest offers these plotting resources.
Getting Un-Stuck
My fear is getting stuck. I feel like if I get stuck then I won't reach my word count. I don't want to have to come up with ideas under pressure. Fleshing out ideas is no problem but coming up with new ones is a brain overload for me. I have enough stress and pressure in my normal life especially during November. Tangent: Why November, I wonder. It's like the semi-but-not-really-calm-before the storm of holiday season.  
Ways to Get Un-Stuck
Make readers care about your characters and believe they are real, with flaws. This should be done in your first few chapters. Ask yourself what's at stake, what will happen if the characters or main character doesn't solve the problem. If you don't make us care and set the stakes, this may be why you find it hard to keep on going with these characters.

Create an inciting incident (conflict that begins action of the story) and a big enough problem to keep the story going. This incident and problem have to keep snowballing, branching out (tumbling), growing (inevitably getting worse) for the conflict to rise and persist. Your characters will then make decisions and act, learn, grow and overcome these obstacles set for them. If none of this happens, frankly you have a boring book that needs revising and forethought.
All these points can be accomplished through Writers Digest plotting exercises and Jami Gold's Worksheets for Writers before starting to write so there's a clear idea of what the book is about and where plot will go. "Pansers" don't be dissuaded, most "plotters" use outlines as a guideline not a bible and you should too. (Jami Gold offers Scrivener templates too.)
The Plan to get ready for NaNoWriMo:
1. Come up with an idea then plot the main action first. The beginning, middle and end. I usually go further and plot every scene with a scene goal written in a few sentences. I know this is hard for most so just having a beginning, middle and end is a great start. Resources: Alicia Rasley has a great blog post on Outlining Your Novel in Thirty Minutes that can help get you going. Also a beat sheet* from Jami Gold can help. (Jami Gold offers Scrivener templates too.)
2. If your novel will take place in a different world/time than the present then start imagining how that world functions. This is going to help sell your story, making the world believable. Resource: Plotting Your Sci-Fi Novel by NowNovel

3. I look at the characters at a superficial and basic level. What do they look like and wear, how do they talk. Then what are their goals and motivations, how will moving through the plot change them?  Resources: Character Worksheet by Jody Hedlund, Character Development Worksheet by Writer's Craft and Creating Well-Developed Characters from NaNoWriMo Youth Program notebook are three great resources.

I always say the easiest part about writing is writing the first draft. The rough draft. In the rough draft, I've outlined and plotted the story and proceeded to dump all I have on paper. I let the characters speak to me. Ideas, scenes and dialogue come from everywhere; while sleeping, showering, out with friends, sitting at a stop light, listening, talking, observing and basically living. Just talking about it makes my blood rise and my palms sweat. So let life speak to you. Whether or not you reach 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo is totally up to you. It can be done if you put writing and yourself first. 

Stay tuned for additional NaNoWriMo related blog posts. Planned blogs in the NaNoWriMo Tips Series are "Getting Through" AND "The Aftermath".


  1. Great tips! Looking forward to the other posts. :)

  2. Thanks, your blog post about NaNo is great too -



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