From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: And the next plot point is...

So. Even though I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, I couldn't let November 1st go by without addressing what would be causing me by far the most grief, were I doing NaNo.


It's never been my strong suit. I love characters and thoughts and dialog and description and scenarios, but putting those all together into a novel-length cohesive story is tough for me. I've talked about this before in various ways, but its definitely worth talking about again.

Let's say the first segment of my MS is plot points A-G. The way my mind works, I get the major plot points--A, D, G--down okay. But hitting B, C, E, and F along the way sometimes gets me stuck, even though I know they need to be there. Does that make sense? It's like crossing a river on stepping stones, and finding the smaller steps between the bigger, more obvious boulders is tricky.

This can cause problems during NaNo for people like me, who don't have the luxury of a long time to think things through and search and search for that tiny needed step. And its a problem for me in general, so I could really use your ideas.

I have come up with a few things. When I'm starting an idea, I start with a very basic outline with those more major, A, D, G points. I come up with as many plot points as I can just within the story in my head, but it still ends up fairly sparse. Then I start a kind of accumulation process. I start a list. I go through my old creative writing notebooks, see what ideas they can give me. I stare at my bookshelf and try and think what major plot points from my favorites could maybe give me ideas for something in my story. I take that list and integrate it with the outline and flesh it out a little more. Then I go through and see if I can spot any holes and try and fill those in. By then I've hopefully got something workable and its time to start.

Inevitably, though, new things are discovered as the story unfolds, more holes are uncovered, new ideas pop. Then the outline changes and you're left without a step, without an E where you thought there was one.

That is where I get stuck. That is the biggest problem I have personally so far encountered in the novel-writing process. After a period of thinking and agonizing I generally find a way to get myself unstuck, but if I could get your advice to make my unsticking a lot more stable and graceful, so I don't feel like I'm flopping my way to the next boulder, that would be great.

So what do you do? How do you get from A to D? I mean, some people--the "pantsers"--write whole novels just one step at a time, feeling their way forward with their characters, with only the vaguest notions of where they're going if any at all. It's that exact "feeling your way forward" process that I could use help with.

So. For my and the NaNo-ers sake. Help?

Sarah Allen


  1. Try to write just what comes to mind as it comes to mind, forget following ABCDEFG and so on. If plot comes to you as ACFG, follow those. At the moment of writing, write the vision in your mind, and make the plot circular rather than linear.

  2. I have a general story board outline with no specifics. That way I have plenty of room for wiggles and sudden explosions of new ideas along the path.

    I think finding a way that works for us ... is part of the necessary process.

  3. I've never done NaNo and I don't know if I ever will. It'd be cool to do, but for now I'm a chipper. 200+ words a day is my goal.

    I couldn't help but notice your current number of followers: 666.

  4. If I have trouble with plot, it's usually because I'm too easy on my characters. They need more to go wrong. They need to make mistakes, have bad things happen to them, and generally do stuff that I know is a bad idea. That's how things get exciting. In other words, create conflict.

    I also agree with the comment on circular writing. If your character has a troubled past, that can also interfere with what's going on in your book. Thus, you can go back and forth between past and present, trying to explore and resolve all the issues.

  5. I'm such a panster and use dialogue to help develop my plot. Handwriting my chapters first helps, too. Then I get all my ideas out of my head and come up with something way better when I pluck it out on the keyboard.

  6. I outline like crazy. But I have started to learn that the outline is like a funnel. At the start (top) you have the most room to let the story wander/wiggle. When I get near the second half of the book, I have to look back and see if I am still on course or not. If I am then I am good. If not, then I have to point my characters in the direction I need them to go.

    Looking through my rough draft for my second book. One character who originally should have died in book 1 is forced to do things they don't want to or agree with. It's been quite interesting because I think in a small way, this character steals the show. A character that originally did not exist for this book.

  7. Plot is my weakness! I don't outline so revisions are a nightmare for me. My plot usually doesn't come together until the 5th or 6th draft (and sometimes not even then).

  8. I say go with the flow. You may start out writing a plot that goes from A to D, but the journey of discovery that is novel-writing redefines that plot at B to G. Let it flow.

  9. Oh man, you've got to pick up SAVE THE CAT. It's a screenwriting book, but it's a tremendous help for plotting and pacing and even for revising your characters, even for a novel-length book. It's a bit formulaic, but it can really help you see how to lay out your plot and give you some pointers for getting started.

  10. I am a firm believer in trying different approaches until you find what works best for you.

    I used to try to plot an outline with a main plot and sub-plots, but I got so confused. Then when I started to write everything went to pieces.

    I've tried the panster thing and that novel still has so many holes and missteps its ridiculous.

    I've tried SAVE THE CAT and I still think it is a great book to have and try. I've since moved on to a different method, but I still really like the book. It's great! At least check it out from your local library, hopefully they have it.

    My latest help came from a critique partner who uses "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen Wiesner. I can't say that it actually works in 30 days, but some of the plotting information is great.

    I have finally I decided to pick and chose from all of the above and it seems to work great now.

    Try as many different methods as you can and see what works for you. Good luck!


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