It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo, when thousands of writers will try to cram 50,000 words into a 30-day deadline. If you’re participating in NaNo and anything like me, you might be freaking out a little as November nears.
Yes, that’s right. I’m doing NaNo this year and feeling a little stressed. Although this is my third year with NaNo, this will be my first time doing it “for really-real.” *smile*
In 2012, I wrote 60K during November, but that was to draft Act Two and Three of a book I’d already started. In 2013, I only had 30K left to go on my work in progress, so I couldn’t even try for the 50K mark. But this year?
This year, I’m starting a new story from scratch on Day One of NaNo. Just the way we’re supposed to do it.
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, this “from scratch” aspect is why I’m eager to explore my story idea through the method I’ll be teaching in my upcoming “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story” workshop. This time, I need to get ready. *grin*
Of course I am a pantser, so what I do to get ready for drafting by the seat of my pants is different from what those who plot their stories in advance do to get ready. But I figured now would be a good time to review two different approaches for starting any draft—NaNo or not—pantser or plotter—and update one of my posts about knowing what to plan in advance.
The Two Types of Story Planning
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. So we need to figure out what style of planning will work best for us.
The Basics of Planning for Plot
If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to focus our planning efforts on 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.
Plot Planning Resources:
- Learn what beat sheets are and how they work. (Want more details? Check out my OnDemand workshop on Beat Sheet Basics.)
- Decide which beat sheet to use. (Pantsers: Stick with the Basic Beat Sheet—everything else is too detailed—and check this post and this post for tips on how pantsers can use beat sheets too.)
- See if we can identify the major turning points of our story.
- Think about how those turning points might affect the theme or characters.
- Make sure we’re raising the stakes as the story progresses and won’t have a “sagging middle.”
- If we’re going to use Scrivener for our NaNo draft, set up our beat sheet in our Scrivener project.
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 focus our planning efforts on 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)
Character Planning Resources:
- Plan how they’ll change and what they’ll learn.
- Explore their internal struggle through Michael Hauge’s ideas of longing, wound, false belief, fear, identity, and essence.
- Think about how we might show our characters’ false beliefs.
- Use the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri to gain insight into our characters’ flaws, traits, behaviors, etc. (Here’s a list of traits to use during brainstorming.)
- Explore the Writers Helping Writers tools on character development for flaws, positive traits (this post and this post have more about how to use this tool), profile questionnaire, and backstory (this post has more about using these last two tools).
- Think about how the plot and characters will affect each other.
Worried about Getting Stuck?
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. When we have to get in 50K words in 30 days, we need to quickly overcome those times we’re stuck. *smile*
And I just have to share this testimonial from two days ago because it made me squee and then blush and then squee some more:
“This is the BEST online workshop I’ve taken … Using this method, I was able to fast draft THREE 100k manuscripts in 2-months a piece (over only 8 months). RECOMMENDED!!” — Jennifer Rose
I’m offering my plotter and pantser-friendly workshop in two weeks (October 28th and 30th), 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. And if you’re doing NaNo, come buddy me so we can cheer each other on.
Hopefully, these tips will be enough to get us all started. My beta buddy Angela Quarles and I had a brainstorming session this past weekend, so I have the basics ready for NaNo. But with every story, I still freak out that I don’t know enough. Luckily by now, I’ve learned to trust my muse, so I’m trying to hold the freak out to a minimum. Good luck to us all! *smile*
Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you feel ready for November? What do you plan or prepare in advance? Do you have a harder time with plots or characters? Can you pants one of those but not the other?
Join Jami in her upcoming workshop:
Get ready for NaNo by learning how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”