No • vem • ber
— a month during which those who occupy themselves with the activity of writing experience extreme amounts of stress, adrenaline, and other good things
— the month during which the tribal festival of NaNoWriMo is celebrated by the peoples of the world
— a month with a very cool-sounding name
Origin– something Latinese
Dictionaries can be so handy sometimes. But ya know what’s more handy? A plot outline. There. I said it. Sue me.
There are a million and eight ways (counted them) to plan a book. Some people don’t do it at all, others write a thirty page synopsis, and still others write one halfway through the book (not that I’ve *cough* ever *cough* done that) that they then proceed to stop writing…
If you’ve ever researched the topic, you’ll find formulas like the “Snowflake Method” abounding. Strict, rigid guidelines, that if you follow, may or may not guarantee a possibly mediocre story (maybe).
I despise formulaic writing. I think it started when I was in elementary school, and we were forced to write scrupulously structured essays. Every one had to have at least five paragraphs, and each paragraph had to have this, this, and that. It was even worse, then, when they started cracking down on cheating. Not that I’m a cheater, but it’s kind of frustrating when the only way to get points is to write an essay that’s just like everyone else’s, but you can also lose points if your essay is too much like someone else’s.
Personally, I like to make a short, sweet, under-three-page synopsis. I list ideas I have for specific scenes I know need to be written, and I make sure I have plenty of mystery at any given point. I pay special attention to making sure that my story has multiple threads that run it’s entire length. Too many subplots can be bad, but a balance of two or three that all weave together nicely and pertinently can really up your game.
I’m also all about writing an “ah-ha moment” bit of the story, so I’ll try and include that in my plan as well. To clarify, I don’t exactly want the entire story to build to a single instant, but I do want to tie up a few loose ends at the same time so the reader gets this feeling like ok, I see what he did there.
Now, some writers face a dilemma when trying to write a synopsis–it seems like too much work. My advice here is to think about the general idea of what you want to write. Don’t worry about the details, just the overall feel of your end-goal manuscript. Then, jump right in and write the first scenes that pop into your head. Something, anything to later use as a base for the rest of your story.
I did this when I started my latest project (yes, I got a new one just in time for NaNo). In my head, I couldn’t get this scene out of my mind of this crowd of people–reporters–pressing up against the glass of a massive viewport to get a look at a super awesome-looking, steampunky gold-and-red spaceship.
So, without any other idea of what the story would be about, I decided to start there. Now that I’ve written that, I now have a pretty good synopsis of the plot in progress, and beyond that a few pages actually written.
The point is, don’t get hung up on little things. If there’s something big in your mind, write it. It’s like not going to a Broadway show because you forgot your hair gel/makeup/sunglasses and you’re too focused on looking your best to realize that your obsession is keeping you from having fun.
Also, (little bit of cinematography sneaking in now) if you feel like you have to write chronologically, don’t sweat it. Lots of people, myself included, have a sort of subconscious aversion to starting in the middle of a book and writing everything else out from there. The important thing is to overcome that aversion and just write. For me, I didn’t know that the spaceship scene I had in my head would end up being the very beginning of my new project, but I wrote it anyways.
Finally, a word of NaNoWriMo-specific encouragement—if you don’t hit your goal… so be it. Don’t sweat it. I’m probably not gonna get 50K myself, but, importantly, that won’t stop me from trying. The very fact that you are writing, period, is what NaNoWriMo is all about. Don’t get distracted by the other things.
For now, just keep writing. You’ll get there in the end.