Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Basics of Plotting: Nano Tip # 1

Yes, despite Nano-Creator Chris Baty’s delightful book, “No Plot, No Problem,” the facts of novel-writing outweigh the "no plot needed" philosophy. (Of course, I'm still a huge fan of Chris Baty - he's witty, and I've just ordered his newest book!)

But nevertheless, creating at least a brief plot outline in October is essential for any successful Nano noveler! (Trust me -- I’ve done this 3 times!) With no plot, you’ll get stuck in the middle of your novel around November 12th, and flounder, losing valuable forward-motion on your word-count. Any successful noveler must be able to answer these three questions from day one:

1.) Where are your character(s) starting from?
2.) Where are they are going to end up (at least in some approximation)
3.) What types of problems are they going to have to get themselves through in order to arrive at the end in one piece?

For some people, that’s all they need: A 3-STEP PLOT
Here's one for the Lord of the Rings:

1.) Hobbit Frodo Baggins has just inherited a magic ring that will destroy the world if not destroyed itself. The ring’s evil creator is looking for the ring.
2.) Frodo will, in the end, destroy the ring in a volcano where it was created, destroying the evil ring-creator, and thus saving the world.
3.) But to get there he must travel across many lands with a group of international folks (elves, dwarves, human sons of kings,) who don’t get along with each other due to long-term ethnic enmity; He must avoid the evil ring-creator’s minions who are trying to capture him and the ring, and must also avoid various wars that are taking place in the lands through which he travels. Above all, he must have the courage to continue on the journey despite the fact that the ring’s power over him grows continuously, causing him to have low energy, emotional problems, and difficulty trusting friends who are trying to help him.

SO – there you go. A nano plot! (Or a plot for any novel at any time of the year). You know where you’re coming from, where you’re going, and what the character has to get through and survive in order to get to the end of the book successfully.

Now, if you’re as bad at plotting as I am, you might want to also do a ‘chapter outline.” This helps you, (the writer) know exactly where you (and your characters) are going, every step of the way.

Ex: Chapter Outline

1.) Bilbo’s Birthday party. Bilbo disappears. Frodo inherits dangerous ring.
2.) At Wizard Gandalf’s direction Frodo and Sam leave home to begin the journey to keep the ring away from the enemy. They encounter Pippin and Merry and flee the black riders.
3.) At the Inn at Bree the hobbits meet Aragorn. The inn is attacked by the evil black riders who attempt, but fail, to kill Frodo.
4.) Chapter 4...ETC.

This is the option I usually use. I need a lot of direction, you see...
But brief or intricate, as long as you have a plot ready to go before November 1st, your Nano (or your noveling experience during any other time of year, for that matter,) will go much more smoothly!
So how do you do your plotting?
And have you already sketched out your basic plot for Nano 2008?


C.R. Evers said...

OMG! That kitty is such a cutie pie! Is it yours? He reminds me of a younger and more playful version of my cat.

Great post!

I'm loosly outlining my chapters with the basics of what I think should happen. Nothing real specific, but things like when to introduce what characters, what kind of feeling I want to get across to the reader and the scene of the chapter.

I'm interested to see how other people do it!


just Joan said...

Love the pictures! This is the first year I'll be working from a chapter by chapter synopsis/outline. I normally have a brief idea of where my characters begin and where they will end up with a couple of ideas for subplots.

The first year I did nano, this method worked well for me, but the second two years, it didn't work so well.

This year I'm excited to see if the synopsis/outline thing works better (and I suspect it will)

Janelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janelle said...

Hi Joan! Hi Christy! Yep that's my Luna. She's a real book lover!

So it sounds like you're both doing a brief chapter outline. That's what I've discovered I need to do too, these days. Otherwise I get all confunded in the "middle" of the book. Ack!

Another thing that helps me too, is naming the chapters in my outline. If the chapter name shows what the chapter's about, it helps keep me focused on what I'm supposed to be writing about in that chapter. Ex: "The Crash..."

Janelle said...

Hey Joan, thanks for bringing up the topic of SUBPLOTS in the outline phase. That's something we should talk about more, probably.

I've gotten into the habit now of drawing a main plot line for the "action" of the main plot, another plot line for the emotional changes (or internal conflict) of the main character, and then, sometimes, adding in another line alongside the other two to show the progression any secondary plots. But more often, I just stuff them into the main "action plot" line in another color of ink.

My system is still in process, I think. So, I'd love to hear tips from others on how you include subplots in your outlines.

Edith said...

Great plotting tips, Janelle! I did a bit of plotting myself today. AND I wrote a blog entry and you're in it! Check you out here

Janelle said...

Hey Edith,
Glad to see you popping in on writermorphosis! I love the "tension" notes from the SCBWI Fall conference on your blog.
Happy Plotting!

sruble said...

Great post! I'm not usually an outliner, but I'm making tons of notes (this time) before NaNoWriMo and maybe I'll even do one of the outlines you talked about here, or the 3x5 card outline (usually in scenes, but some people do it differently). LOVE the pictures of your cute kitty. Reminds me of the cat we used to have (Romulus). His brother, Remus, is still around, but is orange and white. Romulus was all orange.

(I followed the link from Christy's blog.)

Janelle said...


Thanks for coming by! Thanks too, for bringing up the 3X5 card idea. I know that having a visual outline like that really works well for a lot of people. We right brainers gotta LOVE those visuals. : )

I love the names of your cats too! Remus and Romulous. Awesome!