Yesterday I covered character development, and talked about how it’s vital to any good novel, but especially to a winning NaNoWriMo novel. But that doesn’t mean you don’t also need a decent plot.
There are a few ways to approach “plotting”, depending on your goals and aims. Stephen King has a great method. He doesn’t “plot”, he just puts characters in a situation and sees what happens. It’s the ultimate “What if?” approach. This kind of organic plotting obviously works brilliantly for him. There’s an element of it in a lot of the best novels out there. If you’re going to try this, make sure you know your characters inside and out so you know exactly how they’ll respond when different things happen.
Other people like to plot things out, beginning to end, knowing every step along the way. I do this sometimes. It’s what I’m doing for this year’s NaNo project. The first year I tackled this project, I started an outline, then quickly abandoned it and just went with whatever came to mind. It worked better than I expected, but still not as well as it could have.
Some people only have an idea of where they’re going to start and where they’re going to end up (hopefully). And others have no clue other than a basic idea.
I generally wouldn’t recommend that last one for NaNoWriMo (especially if it’s your first NaNo) unless you’ve written a novel before and know that it works for you. Having at least a general idea of where you’re going and where you’re starting serves as a guidepost so you know what needs to happen. It’s easy to get lost or boxed into a corner if you have no idea what needs to happen next.
At the same time, don’t stick rigidly to your outline if you choose to use one. Sometimes the best ideas occur to you while you’re writing, and require changing around some things. Go with it. Adjust your outline if you need to, or just toss it and go with the new idea. An outline is there to help you write. If it’s getting in the way, it’s not longer helping.
But again, how you plot is a very personal choice. What works for one novelist fails miserably for another. Here are a handful of plotting resources you might find helpful:
How to Write a Book in Three Days – And you’re complaining about having only 30 days? This method is incredibly detailed and has a lot of useful information about how to outline a novel and what you need to have handy to make sure you don’t get stuck. And it’s the method used by a published novelist.
Evil Overlord Devises a Plot – A fun plot generation tool. Not necessarily useful.
Novel Outlining 101 – A great outlining article, with examples.
How to Plot a Novel for Beginners in Writing – A short overview of the classic three-act structure.
StoryToolz Generators – Two useful plot generators: Story Ideas and Multiple Conflicts.
Conflict is the backbone of a good plot. Whether it’s internal or external, without conflict, you don’t really have a story. And you’ll bore your reader to death, even if your prose is beautiful.
Conflict is relatively simple, though: Your protagonist wants something. Something is in his way. There you go: conflict.
My favorite analogy for conflict within a novel is to chase your character up a tree. Then throw rocks at him. Then throw bigger rocks at him. Just when you (or your reader) think he can’t take any more, light the tree on fire. Whether he gets out is up to you.
As always, if you have more useful plotting tips or links, please share them in the comments!