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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plotting for NaNo

Confession: I usually don't plot a novel until chapter three.

Why? Because, just like a book I'm reading, I give a novel until chapter three before I decide if it's viable. Ideas mug me all the time, but if the idea can't drag me to the 9k word mark I know it's not fully-formed enough to become a novel. I'll put the idea aside and revisit if more of the story comes to me, or if I want to break the idea down for spare parts.

But that doesn't work on a deadline.

When you join the insanity that is NaNoWirMo you set the deadline for midnight of November 30th. No excuses. No exceptions. No extensions.

Even the Pansters out there will see the advantage to making at least a loose outline or having some idea of what they will write in November.

Picking a Plot:
1. Make it interesting
--> NaNo is a good time to experiment, but not to experiment with something that doesn't interest you. If you write fantasy mid-grade novels NaNo probably isn't the best place to try challenging yourself with writing historical nonfiction unless you've already done the research.

2. Keep the plot open
--> There's a tendency for some authors to try and "over write" their plot so that their NaNo novel is actually just fleshing out a 30,000 word outline than actually writing. The problem with that idea is that if something new occurs to you or the plot twists, you could find yourself very confused. So, leave the plot open enough that you can fit every zany idea in.

3. Have fun
--> NaNo gets a little bit crazy. Embrace the crazy. If some little walk-on character starts stealing the show, that's fine. Let the minor characters have lines. Let them sing and dance. Bring on the aliens, mermaids, and black nailpolish. If it really doesn't work, you can edit later.

4. Understand this is a rough draft
--> No, you can't by-pass the first rough draft by writing a stunning outline. Don't even try. Admit that your NaNo draft will be less than 100% perfect and let it go.

No, seriously. Put the pen down. A good plot won't keep you from spelling errors. It's okay, I cried too...

5. Pick characters that engage you
Not characters that engage me, or the guy next door, or your mother, but characters that you like. You are going to spend a month in close contact with these characters, so pick ones you can stand writing about on a daily basis for a month. Don't drag a reluctant character or a character you don't like but that will "sell well" into NaNo. You're only hurting yourself.

6. If you want to write Fanfic, admit it
Good idea: Writing a super awesome cool novel for NaNo and having fun while getting a rough draft of a future plublishable novel out of the way.

Okay idea: Writing a super awesome fanfic novel based on your favorite book/movie/play/friend just so you and your friends can have a laugh at the end of the month.

Bad idea: Rewriting Twilight or Harry Potter with your name instead of Bella's or Harry's and hoping that 1- no one notices and 2- someone will want to publish the story of Harry Swan and his love Eddetta Culler the witchy vampire in spring of 2010.

There's nothing wrong with fanfic. Where people go wrong is not realizing (or admitting) that they've written fanfic. Trust me, the publishers will notice. And so will JKR's lawyers.

7. Break your plot into pieces
One of the best tips a fellow writer gave me the first year of NaNo was "Keep the Outline Under Control".

If your outline is written slightly chunky it allows you to set small goals for yourself. Like, "Write scene three today." You have a definite beginning, middle, and end of each chunk and that's easier to write than something that wends and winds for 50,000 words.

8.Be passionate
If you haven't settled on a specific plot remember this: the more you love the idea the better the writing will be.

Don't force yourself to write something because you've been told it will sell well, or because your friend thinks you should write it, or because your writing group challenged you to do something this month. Write the story you love.

Anyone else have tips and tricks for NaNoWriMo's who are trying to pick a plot?


  1. Great tips! I thought I'd be too busy with my WiP to NaNo, but I've been making lots of progress recently, so I may just do it. Unofficially, though. I don't feel the need to sign up this year. Just a personal challenge. And I've decided to re-write a Grimm's fairytale, so I've got my idea down.

    Good luck, and have fun!

  2. Liana, I'm a chapter three person too!! I write for three chapters to see where the book wants to go, then I sit down and plot out the future chapters, to decide where *I* want it to go from there. :) I never met anyone else who did that.

  3. If it's not working, do something different! Don't throw out those old words, but just start writing the new thing that captures your interest. For example, I know plenty of people who switched main characters or POV mid-NaNo, and ended up liking it much better afterwards. You can always edit later!

  4. There are dare threads if you get stuck. O:)

    Quite a few people actually base their entire novels on dares. It's highly entertaining.

    I like plot in chapter 1. ;) But I'm willing to read a few more chapters (or write) if something else catches my attention--like voice, characters, a cool setting, or just plain lots of Shiny.

    So hey, if you get stuck, figure out what pushes your 'ooh, shiny' buttons and include it. Do you like winged bovines who fly around granting wishes to disgruntled farmers? Write them in. It doesn't matter if you take it out later or not--nano is a great time to experiment and have fun and try weird things. ;)

    Go for it.


  5. This is my first year so this may not work out.

    I have just made my outline by writing the 30 key things that happen in the story. That's one a day without the pressure that I have to finish any of them. I am going to write them in any order and see if they can stitched together later.

    And if not, what the hell...

  6. Merc, I'm so writing based on the 'insert shiny here' method this year :D I've had enough of writing to outlines with the other work I've done this year.

    Li - incidentally, this is a great post on not only how to choose your Nano novel, but how to choose ANY novel that you want to write ;)

  7. I'm not the fastest typist going so doing NaNo meant taking a lot of my time to achieve the goal. Some days, when I just couldn't write the story because I was feeling too stressed and risking burnout, I'd write about my day or anything that caught my attention and I wanted to discuss with someone. After all, the goal is to write 50,000 words. Also, it let me separate what I wrote later into two novels - the story and a personal journal.

  8. Oh, crazy Nano. I'm trying to plot out the whole thing this year so I don't end up with a rambling mess. It was terrific fun to be a mess, but not so productive.