Thursday, October 30, 2014

Plotting that Novel




In two days National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately called) will begin. The objective is to write 50,000 words of your novel's first draft in thirty days! Now that's what I call a challenge. I've attempted this before and chickened out at the last minute for a variety of reasons but this year I intend to stick to it and "win" by getting those 50,000 words written.

So how does that happen? Here's where a brief discussion of plot comes in.

There are two major categories of novelists--those who meticulously outline every scene and character (outliners) and those who begin with a vague idea and then just write by the seat of their pants (pantsers.) Of course there are a hundred variations and combinations of the two and each writer must decide for herself which system works best.

I have always been a pantser--just taking an idea from the universal ether and running with it. While this works for many writers, and has worked for me in the past, over the past year a lot of books have come out describing different ways to outline your novel. All of these books are great resources and quite helpful, but which method does one choose?

After reading several of these books and doing some online research I observed that all outlining methods boil down to the same thing:




  • a three act dramatic structure
  • an ordinary world that is disrupted by an inciting incident that launches the story goal
  • a main character who takes a journey and undergoes a transformation
  • a major turning point or crisis at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 mark and 3/4 mark
  • a climax just before the end that leads to a main character/protagonist battle that leads to a resolution where the MC either achieves her story goal, fails to achieve, or discovers a new goal that serves her better

Once that's in place you sketch out scenes that link together from the inciting incident, to each crisis, and to the climax and resolution.

Simple enough right?
Well maybe not so simple because when you begin to write, even though you may have figured out that your novel length requires 60 scenes, how do you know in chapter one what scenes you need to get to chapter 30? Until you start writing you may be in the dark, driving without headlights.

So a combination of sketching out the main events of the story and then writing scenes and seeing where the characters lead you can work. 

It's up to each writer to choose what works and one method may work well for this novel but another method may work for the next novel you write. It's trial and error. As I tell the teachers in my school, what works for Billy may not work for Betty and what works for Danny today may not work for Danny tomorrow.

So outline the best you can. Trust that all your novel reading (because I know writers are voracious readers) has cemented the dramatic arc and three act structure in your brain like a hard wired computer program. Now just let the pen skate across the pages, or your fingers dance across the keys and join me in a month long writing spree in November that will hopefully lead to a workable first draft.

Hop on board and write that novel.