Michille: Planning a Novel

Woman With a PlanWith NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I am trying to plan out the rest of my story so I have lots of writing fodder to meet the 1,667 words-per-day goal. Just looking at that number doesn’t seem that hard to do, but I’ve done NaNo a couple times. Did it once, but only got to 35,000 the other time. Both times, I was starting from scratch. This time I have 40,000 and just want to finish the darned book.

In a very timely fashion, I got an email from a writing site I subscribe to called Creative Writing Now. The subject of the email was “How to plan a novel” (here are some of her ideas). Nancy (not sure who Nancy is exactly) starts off with the basics: come up with a main character and a problem facing that character. Then write down the scene ideas for the character and the problem. This is often how I start. Although, I tend to start more the main character’s goal, and then have difficulty with the conflict lock. Nancy goes on into a description of a plot outline. I don’t usually get this far in the early stages. I tend to just start writing and then have to do the outline later when I’m figuring out where I am and where I’m going.

The post included several genre specific plots that focus on the structure, action, scene order, speed, rhythm, etc. Popular story structures she used were women’s fiction, mystery novels, and hero’s journeys. She had some specifics on what those books contained, but they all can be divided in the scenes and acts with tension ramping up and something big changing in the middle with the final climactic scene(s).

Here is a quote from author Ken Follett describing his process: “I rewrite the outline – and this may happen several times. Typically there will be a first draft outline, a second draft outline and a final outline, so it would twice go through the process of being shown to a number of people. The whole process of coming up with idea, fleshing it out, doing the research, drafting the outline and rewriting the outline comes to about a year all told. There are quite often a couple of false starts within this. I may spend a month working on an idea before I realize that it isn’t going to work and abandon it. But after this whole process, I’m ready to write the first draft.”

Looks like Follett is a planner/plotter, too. Where are all the pantsers? Are any of you folks getting ready to NaNo?

9 thoughts on “Michille: Planning a Novel

  1. I’m a re-forming pantser. I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year, but have decided I want to “finish the darn book” also. I think the reason I haven’t finished is because I get a huge chunk of the way in and then end up with mysterious plot holes that seem more like black holes and they suck the story in – never to be finished (because I couldn’t figure out the darn problems). I think I always felt like plotting took the creativity and flow out of it. What I am discovering is that it’s a matter of perception. A lot of the creativity and pantsing go into the outline (they vary by person as to the amount of anal retentive detail and obnoxiousness) AND you get a chance to figure out your story problems before you spend months and tens of thousands of words finding out you’ve created a hot mess. Let me tell you – I grabbed my book I felt I could work and sell and looked at it. I love the characters, their feel, the story idea – even more now…. let me tell you how heartbreaking it is to pull it all apart and find out that it will be a very different story than it started out to be…. basically a new story (but exciting too!).

    I started to see the light in my James Patterson class where he talks about outlining and the creativity that goes into it – Then I read through the outline of his book that he gave us. Wow! His outline is extreme (but he is often working with other writers so they have to have more info to be on the same page) – it was 30 pgs long – but I tell you – I couldn’t stop reading it. I kept wanting to know what was next, and next, and next – And that was just the outline! I was also reading the book – so I know what tweaks were made along the way.

    I am trying like mad to get my outline done. It is harder than I thought it would be – especially since I thought I already knew the story and the characters – imagine my surprise at being aghast that a couple of them were waaaaaaay different and opposite of what I thought they were. It’s not a string of murders any more either – it’s more of an action thriller. I’m understanding what the theme is – because the characters have been showing me what it is as I work on figuring out my outline. I find I’ve had a big problem in the past – what you said about the conflict lock – and it has been an unseen, but well felt weakness. I think getting the outline set, will allow me to be in the true flow as I go to write…. And I am even changing that up this year.

    I read a great short book called “5000 words per hour” by Chris Fox… one of his suggestions was to use Dragon Naturally Speaking (because you can talk a heck of a lot faster than you type or write). He also advocates working on and developing your sprint muscles and tracking your success so you can improve. I had tried Dragon before – hoping to do something like that – I trained the system and everything – and I didn’t feel I had much luck. Well – I’ve been doing daily sprints this week to flex my muscles – two, 10 min sprints every morning – using the free Dragon dictation on my iPad – I am already clearing a NaNo day’s word count – in two, ten-minute sprints! If I have my outline ready to go – I am ready to “read” my book. If I can do this, I will complete my mission this year – which isn’t 50,000 words – It’s to complete a first draft of the entire book!

    For some quick help for other pantsers who want some accessible plotting help – I recommend two Jordan Dane (a self-described pantser) articles on The Killzone Authors – one of my favorite and most useful writerly hangouts – if you need to kill some time, get some help, etc… I cannot recommend the authors there enough. Here are the two articles:

    The Author’s Bucket List on Plot Structure, by Jordan Dane, Mar 01, 2012
    http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2012/03/authors-bucket-list-on-plot-structure.html
    (If you can even fill in just the 5 points of the “W” here – for your NaNo – you will be 90% better off than your fellow NaNo-ers.)

    9-Act Screenplay Structure – Novel Plotting Resource, by Jordan Dane, May 18, 2011
    http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2011/05/9-act-screenplay-structure-novel.html

    If you want some more serious plotting advice – that makes sense and will get you going, I recommend another new read: “Outlining Your Novel” by KM Weiland – she has a matching workbook for it too.

    I’m on NaNo as chaco_kid. I would be glad to be friends with any of you and kick ideas or kick bottom with you! 😀 (And now that I’ve taken over your blog today – I think I’ll grab a copy of this post and go run it up on my blog…. it’s been awhile since I’ve posted over there, but you got me going and you got first dibs! :D)

    • For those who don’t have/don’t want to invest in Dragon, you can also use smartphone functionality for a similar effect. When I had lunch with a friend a few months ago, she told me she’d started recording on her phone into Evernote (I’m sure other notes programs can take audio as well), then cutting and pasting the text into her outline or story. I’m going to see her in a few weeks, and will be asking her how that’s worked for her. I’ll have to report back, and might try it myself!

      I have been getting the NaNo influx in my inbox, but remain undecided. If I decide to jump into it this year, I’ll look for chaco_kid and mikeely. I can’t remember my NaNo name at the moment, but it’s something totally uninspired like NHunter or my initials.

      • I’d like to try to talk to text stuff. I should probably do that prior to November 1. I wouldn’t want to waste valuable time messing with that. Right now, I’m fleshing out my outline. I have a list at the end of the outline of random scenes, some of which are backstory that won’t be in the story at all, but I need them so that I can pepper the details of them throughout the story to make a cohesive thread. Like the story of Great Aunt Gertrude’s boarder – the former wise guy who retired to obscurity but had details on the bad mojo in Bachman’s Run. I have to figure that out before I can write it in my story. And I’m counting those words.

  2. Great post. Thanks for lots of good ideas. I love KM Weiland. My NaNo name is mikeely. I’ll try to find you, but I don’t remember all the navigation on the site. I’ll have to noodle around on it. (and get my outline beefed up so I have scenes for every day). I also have some characters that need fleshed out. I am going to include my character profiles in my word count. I have my characters do a stream of consciousness blurb when I’m having trouble figuring out who they are.

  3. I’m a panster trying hard to convert to a plotter. As I talked about in a previous post, I’m working on my own outline in preparation for NaNo. I’m hoping to have enough detail down that I don’t hit that day-7-what-the-heck-do-I-write-now problem.

    I’m totally with you on including character profiles and stream of consciousness to your word count. In November, every word counts.

  4. Pingback: Nancy: NaNoWriMo: A Multi-Purpose Writing Tool | Eight Ladies Writing

  5. You know, I really want to be a plotter. But I always wind up a pantser. The story just twists and takes a new turn while I’m actually writing. This time around, though, I know a lot about my world. So, there are a lot of new turns that I’ve already explored a little bit.

    It’s kind of fun, seeing what will happen next. Not even I know.

    Editing is pure hell, though.

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