Photo on 10-22-14 at 10.24 PM #3

I see you, little plot bunny. And I am coming after you.

NaNoWriMo is coming. If you’re a writer, you know EXACTLY what that means:

* inordinate consumption of coffee/tea/soda/beverage of choice

* diminished sleep/social life

* drastic rise or fall in social media use

* a higher propensity to talk to oneself at embarassing moments

* one-sided conversations with notebooks or laptops

* an overwhelming desire to write the next best-seller in only a MONTH

November is nearly here, and with it National Novel Writing Month (which, if you’re a novice to the idea,  you can investigate HERE). Each year when it rolls around, WriMos ask one another the age-old writing questions, including: Are you a plotter, or a pantser?

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Ain’t pantsing it this year. I’ve learned my lesson.

 Here’s the weird thing: I have always told people that I was a planner. I’ve never gone into any NaNoWriMo – or any writing project, for that matter – without a plan (or “pantsing” – i.e. flying by the seat of your pants).

I keep notebooks, clipboards, binders, and notepads full of creative detritus that I want to use in my various projects. Flow charts. Family trees. DIY mini-encyclopedia of character backstories. Plot summaries. Series timelines. (I’ve even got a timeline for a failed manuscript that’s 14 FEET long.) Why? Because that’s just the kind of OCD dreamer I am.

But here’s the thing: None of that actually constitutes as plotting. It was the plot summary, especially, that tripped me up for so long. I figured if I could summarize what I wanted to say, then THAT would be my road map. I would know exactly what I wanted to write, and where everything would go, and I would nail down my manuscript in record time.

But it didn’t tell me: Where to place my subplots. How to ying and yang character responses. How and where to build internal conflict while juggling the external events. How to pace. How to set out my roadblocks and give my characters the necessary recoil to deal with the complications.

Result: My manuscripts sounded a lot like my summaries, which read like extended fairy tales. Eventually, I discovered that the “Once upon a time” approach didn’t get me very far.

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See? Pretty grid. Angela likes her story grids….now.

You see, I forgot a key point that I’m always telling my high school students: If you’re going to write out your ideas, and really knock it out of the park, you need an outline. It needs to be more than bullet points, but it doesn’t need to be a wandering interlude running on for pages and pages.

In other words: A novel outline is more than a grocery list, but less than an essay. Of course, there is also the popular fear that an outline is too “restrictive” and takes away the creative spontaneity. For a well-argued case for outlining, you can read AutoCrit’s excellent article on the subject. The short version goes as follows:

You should outline your novel because….

* …it forces you to focus

* …it fights [writing] fears

* …it helps you balance [all the particulars]

* …it helps you plot

* …it prevents sagging story middles

* …it helps you write faster and be more productive.

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See that white scroll at the bottom? That’s the 14 foot story timeline. Not lyin’ – it’s a beast.

Exactly how to outline a novel is a subject all on its own. I know there are myriad opinons on how brief, how extensive, how to structure it, etc. I’m not here to tell you that – not today, at least. (Although — that blank story grid in the 3rd photo? That’s my way of tackling it. Or most of it.) All I know is to encourage my fellow writers by confessing what has NOT worked for me.

With four jobs, that #6 perk – writing faster and being more productive – is the selling point for me, even without the other five arguments. I don’t have the luxury of frittering away my writing time. I need to be writing when I can – really writing. I need to put out verbage that lands solid and speaks for itself – if not in the first draft, then by the second or third.

Because as much as I love writing, I don’t want 5+ manuscript rewrites again, if I can help it.

What about you? What has worked for you in novel-plotting?

Or are you a die-hard pantser?

Either way – let me know in the comments! 

 (And thanks for reading!)

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