Do you smell it? The crisp air, the fallen leaves? (Unless you’re Down Under.) It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo, when thousands of writers will try to cram 50,000 words into a 30-day deadline.
Unfortunately, I won’t be doing NaNo this year, as I’m not in the right spot with any of my writing projects to do it, but I had a great time last year. (I’m “Jami Gold” if you want to buddy me so I can cheer you on from the sidelines.)
Every writer should probably sign up to do NaNo at least once. We never know what process might work for us until we try. *smile* With that attitude in mind, I want to share some tips on how to make sure our story doesn’t end up a “hot mess.”
A story with no overall arc; feels like random bits and pieces thrown together; plot events happen for no rhyme or reason; characters don’t grow; story themes undermine the story’s goals, etc.
I.e. a revision nightmare.
Plan for NaNo, but Plan Smart
Posts abound this time of year about planning for NaNo so your story will end up as a decent first draft. But do you know what kind of planning will help you the most?
At their essence, all stories are about change. Most stories consist of (at least) two arcs tracking that change: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. They start at Point A and things happen in a cause-and-effect, action-reaction chain to end up at Point B.
Story/plot arcs are about the “what” or the “why.” What happens to make things change? Why is the story happening now and not a year ago?
Character/emotional arcs are about the “who” and the “how.” Who is facing the obstacles and has to change to succeed? How are they changing?
Most stories are a mix of those plot-driven and character-driven questions. But we might not need to plan ahead with both. Some of us can write by the seat of our pants (pantser) with one type of arc more than the other type.
We don’t want to spend hours working through a character background sheet if we’re good at winging the character aspect of our story. Alternately, we don’t want to waste time completing a story outline if we’re good at making up the plot turning points as we go.
That’s why everyone’s blog post about “getting ready for NaNo” looks different. Some people are focusing on the plot elements—filling out beat sheets or story outlines—because that’s what they need. Others are focusing on the character elements—filling out character sheets or writing character backgrounds—because that’s what they need.
There’s no right or wrong answer, so ignore those posts telling you that you have to plan X or Y or Z. Instead, figure out what style of planning will work best for you, and you’ll know what steps you can skip before drafting.
The Basics of Planning for Plot
If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to plan some of the main story turning points.
- What drags the character into the story and forces them to make a choice to get involved?
- What raises the stakes and tension during the middle of the story?
- What’s going to make the character lose hope before the end?
- What’s going to push the character to change and face the obstacles at the end?
We can plan a lot more, obviously, but that gives us a starting point and an ending point. That Point A and Point B will give us a direction as we write. And even if we’re the pants-iest pantser, that much planning is less likely to freak out our muse than doing a full story outline.
The Basics of Planning for Character
On the other hand, if we’re better at making up scenes and plot points as we go along, we might want to plan the character arc. That means we have to know the character’s Point A and Point B.
Some people find character arcs harder to “see” because they’re more mental than physical. But in character terms, Point A and Point B means we have to know their destination (what they want) and their beginning (what’s holding them back).
- What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
- What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
- What do they learn? (how they change)
- What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)
Need More than the Basics? Worried about Getting Stuck?
If you need more structure than those tips, or if you’re worried about getting stuck midway through your story, my “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story” workshop shares additional planning layers we can use at any point in our drafting process.
Many of us who write by the seat of our pants can get through the first part of the story by winging it. But if you’re anything like me, sometime in the middle of the story, we might slow down and get stuck for what should happen next.
The tools I share in my workshop help with planning both the plot and character arc, as well as seeing the conflicts and obstacles we can use in the middle of our story to kick start our writing again. And when we have to get in 50K words in 30 days, we need to quickly overcome those times we’re stuck. *smile*
I’m offering my plotter and pantser-friendly workshop next week (October 15th and 17th), just in time for NaNo. But if the days/times aren’t convenient for you, note that everyone who signs up receives a full recording of the class and a thorough handout. I teach this class about once a year, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to sign up.
This is the last week to register for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)
Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you plan your NaNo project in advance? Had you thought about the two styles of planning before? What type of planning do you do (plot, character, or both)? Do you have any questions about my workshop?
Note: Portions of this post are also appearing on Kristen Lamb’s blog today in a guest post I wrote for her.Pin It