Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Get the most from NaNoWriMo--Plotting De-Mystified

With about ten days before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins, many aspiring "NaNo" authors will soon be chewing fingernails because they don't have one essential ingredient for their work--

A plot.

Plotting seems to be universally intimidating to aspiring authors, whether they're writing during NaNo or working on another book-length work of fiction.  NaNo organizers tell participants to wing it--no plot, no problem--and let their imaginations take them where the moment leads them.

While following your imagination as it wanders down new paths can be fun and while many authors swear by writing by the seat of their pants, our strategy is to divide and conquer the tasks in the writing process by making each task smaller, then focusing our creativity on the task in front of us.  This means we'll look at plotting as a separate activity.

So how do you plot? If you check the dictionary, you'll find that plot is both plan and a list of events. Plot is "what happens" as your hero or heroine takes action in pursuit of his or her objective and as the opponent and other opposition take action to stop them.

Since we've already defined our hero or heroine's objectives when we built our Comprehensive Concept, we know what he or she has to accomplish. So our first step in plotting is to make a detailed list of what our hero or heroine must do to accomplish that objective.  We can brainstorm, mind-map, list in chronological order, or built the list in any manner we choose.  In the end though, we must have a list that is a logical progression of things our protagonist must accomplish in order to obtain their objective. The amount of detail and kinds of things the protagonist must do are determined by genre.  For example, detectives in mysteries must not simply determine the criminal's identity, they must do those specific things that detectives do--interview witnesses, inspect the crime scene or scenes, inspect other evidence, and so on.  In Novelist's Boot Camp -- both the workshops and the book -- we call this "Doing the D's."

Our second step is to build another list--a detailed list of those actions our opponent and other opposition must take to keep the protagonist from achieving his or her objective. Again, the detail comes from the genre and from your character development of your protagonist's opponent and opposition. 

Now merge the two lists and blend them so that you have a logical sequence of action and reaction.

Put each of these action/reaction combinations into a location and time and you have a list of scenes--and you have your plot.

Let this simmer for a day or two, revise it to make the actions of each participant more bold and more daring, check it against your list of expectation for the genre and what you love about reading the kind of book you are now writing, and revise again.  You now have not only your plot, but a series of scenes you can use as writing assignments.

You have but a few days to get ready for NaNo, so best to begin building your lists today! 

Next time--final preparations.

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