Books Magazine

NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Outline the Plot Your Story.

By Josiebrown @JosieBrownCA

PantsI am forever amazed at authors who tell me that they write their books without first outlining the plot of their stories.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Would Be Author: "Plotting? NOOOOO! I'd never do that! I'd be crushing my muse! My characters take me on their journey, not the other way around...."

Me: "Yeah, right, whatever....Um, how long have you been working on that book?"

Would Be Author, after a long silence: "Well, let's see...I started it in the third year of W's second term in office..."

You get my drift.

Dear NaNo Newbie: I never want to have that same conversation with you.

I never want to see the pain in your eyes when you hear that NaNo Pal Such-and-Such just finished his novel/got an agent/sold his book to Random House. Why? Because I know you'll be thinking, "That could have been me, had I only (a) gotten beyond the first chapter (b) figured out where my story was going (c) hadn't run out of steam...."

By the way, "steam" is a euphenism for "plot".

Which gets us back to iceberg at the bottom of this tip: Create an outline your story -- so that you actually have a plot.

Would be Author is what we scribes call a "pantser": someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

Even published authors do it. Many of my writer pals, in fact (Hey! Yeah, YOU! You know who you are...)

They are the ones who (a) work 10 hours a day for the same 3,000 words it takes a plotter to do in, say 4 hours, or (b) turn in their manuscripts after their editors deadlines, and yet (c) still stubbornly insist it's the only way they can write....


Writing is a discipline, and plotting is the foundation in which your wonderful book will be built.

Don't get halfway through it, then kick yourself because it needs a character who should have entered 40 pages earlier, or because you have to substitute more action in place of all that middle-of-the-book navel gazing...

Admit it: YOU were navel-gazing, too...weren't you?

That's because you got lost in the wilderness of your wonderful mind...

The breadcrumbs are your plot.

You will still see all those wonderful characters on the way to your final destination, but your novel's outline is the map that takes you there.

This outline will route you through many twists and turns. Along the way, you'll write in many interesting characters that actually DO something in the story which moves the plot forward: up some very challenging plot hills, and down into scary abysses--

All the while allowing the reader to care--no, to LOVE--your hero or heroine.

Yes, it's okay for this person to be dark, or quirky, or moody, or sad -- but readers still have to LOVE him or her (more on that in a future tip....)

Bottom line: give your story a great beginning, and page-turning middle, and a satisfying ending.

Think 30 chapters (estimate) in 300 pages (again, nothing written in stone) --

And write something on each page -- in each chapter -- to make readers want more of your hero(ine).

Okay, now, tell the truth: Do you plot, or pants? And tell me why...

All comments I receive between November 1 and November 30th (midnight PT) will be entered into a contest to receive all three of my books: The Baby Planner, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, and Impossibly Tongue-Tied.

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Happy plotting (Yes. You. Can), and Happy National Novel Writing Month,

-- Josie

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