In case you missed them, I have 3 Simple Tips for Slaying your Word Count and Writing Exercises to Warm Up your Muse. Today I'm going to talk about a few simple plotting techniques.
When I first started writing, I was a pantser--I had no plot in mind, I just sat down and started writing my NaNo. Over time, however, I've learned the value of plotting. Even the simplest outline can be useful. I think many of us cringe at the idea of an outline thanks to traumatic high school composition experiences where we were forced to outline boring research papers. These aren't those kind of outlines. You won't be graded. ;)
Taking the time to plot your novel gives you an escape route when you hit writer's block. I almost always hit a writing wall at 30k words. I get stuck on a difficult scene, and it's hard to find the motivation to get past it. The shiny newness of the story has worn off, and my muse starts eying plot bunnies like my puppy discovering a nearby squirrel. But with an outline, I can skip the difficult bit that I'm stuck on and move on to the next scene, because I already know what that scene is supposed to be.
Writing Tip: When in doubt, use brackets. Like, [fight scene here] or [important clue here]. Or, use brackets to name minor characters who don't matter to the story. Like, [Bob the Neighbor] or [Evil Office Manager]. Looking up names for minor characters is a good way to fall down the research rabbit hole, so don't give in to the temptation. You can fix it later in editing.The Index Card Technique
Speaking of things we used in high school, remember index cards? Still have a few rattling around in your desk? Here's your chance to put them to good use. Take 10 cards. On the first card write the opening action in your story (Dorthy is sent to Oz, Luke finds the hologram of Princess Leia on R2D2--things that kick the action into motion). On the last card write the resolution of your story (Dorthy returns to Kansas, the Death Star is destroyed). Then take the remaining cards and write the steps that need to happen to get the story from your first card to the last card. Need more cards? Awesome. Use as many or as few as you need until you have all the beats written down. Ta da! Easy outline!
Plot Mapping and the Three-Act Structure
"Do All Roads Lead to Plot Mapping?" by Tracy Montoya is the single most useful writing article I've read. It has been an enormous help in my writing. It explains the three-act structure chapter by chapter, and uses the movie "While You Were Sleeping" as an example to explain each step. Now, before you say, "But I'm not writing romance!" let me assure you that this article and its technique works for any genre. Just ignore the romance details if you're not including a romantic pairing in your novel.
What I like to do is to use this article as a guideline in creating an outline. I take her basic structure, like:
Scene A (The Oh No! moment):
Scene C (Inciting Incident):
And fill in the details for my novel, adding or deleting scenes/chapters as needed for my story.
Writing Tip: Writing software is your friend. I've used WriteWayPro for a few years, and it's been helpful in outlining and copying character profiles from one book in my series to another. I know many authors love Scrivener (and they are official sponsors of NaNoWriMo).Goal, Motivation, and Conflict
Yes. This. It doesn't get any more basic, or important, than Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. What does your character want? Why does she want it? What's preventing her from getting it? Answering these questions for each point in your story will help you flesh out the plot.
When I write the first draft of a synopsis I take three highlighters and mark the GMC of each scene. If something is missing (like stating that a character did something by not why she did it), I go back and fill it in. In some cases doing this to the synopsis made me realize that I was missing key details in the novel, and allowed me to go back and fix it before submitting it.
If you're stuck on a scene that just isn't working, stop and figure out the GMC. Not understanding a character's motivation--or not having a motivation--is a problem that can trip up authors while writing the first draft. Your character may not yet understand the reason behind her actions, but you need to. You're the boss of your characters. ;)
Writing Tip: Research your craft. Read books on writing. I highly recommend Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon and Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon. Go to a write-in. Join local writers' groups. Take online workshops. My library offers free online Gale Courses (formerly called Learn4Life) which include a variety of writing-related courses.NaNoWriMo glory approaches. I wish you all good luck and enormous word counts. :)
Want to win a free signed copy of my 2011 NaNo novel? There's still time left to enter the Goodreads giveaway!