Plotting Help for NaNoWriMo

typewriter-1240422This post is for all the NaNo Word Warriors attempting to write a novel in November. Even if you’ve already started your book, it’s not too late to apply a quick and dirty plotting method to your story to make sure you end up with a tight manuscript, not a prosaic exploration of mood (unless that’s what you’re aiming for). Below, I share two of my favorites for those who may have started without a roadmap. These techniques can be applied fairly early in the game without too much effort and are the least rigid, in terms of plotting:

  1. The Tent-Pole Method – Come up with four to six really pivotal scenes and connect the dots between them with more scenes. Each should be written with urgency and lead up to the next. If you know what happens in that pivotal moment, then “writing towards it” is a lot easier than writing blind. Make sure to vary the “height” of your poles, hitting your high points in the middle and end. Yeah, yeah, it makes a lopsided tent. But it also makes a great story. This is probably the best structure for plot-driven stories. I always like to give the example of Casablanca. Pole 1: Mystery, espionage, and intrigue abound, creating a chance meeting between Rick and Ilsa. Pole 2: Ilsa and Laszlo are in trouble, but Rick is too hung up on the past to help. Pole 3: Ilsa clears up the bad history and tells Rick she might still be in love with him. Pole 4: Rick decides to help Ilsa but not Laszlo. Pole 5: Rick sacrifices his love of Ilsa for the good of the war. Obviously, a lot happens in between the poles. But the poles hold the story up, giving it a forward moving structure and a satisfying conclusion.
  2. The Hub & Spoke Method – Begin with a central character – your hub. From the center, draw out multiple “spokes” or events that flow from the character. You can also include tangential “baby spokes.” Once you have most of your spokes, connect them with scenes. This is a very simplistic approach to character-driven stories. For this method, I like to give the example of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. In the center of the story (or wheel) you have Greg Heffley – the hub. Around the hub, you have zoo-wee-mama! and the comic book, trick-or-treating, a prank, a falling out, Christmas, Rowley’s injury, a Safety Patrol debacle, another falling out, and a sleepover to mend things. Notice, though, that the spokes make a nice “wheel of the school year.” Your wheel may not cover a year. It may cover an event, say, a presidential election or a day in the life of a mentally challenged person or a relationship. But it must encapsulate something and come full circle, giving the reader a tidy snapshot.

It’s early, intrepid scribes. If you haven’t thought through your story, today might be a good day. Putting some structure to your words will save you pages and pages of revision on the back-end, and hopefully, by November 30, you’ll have a workable manuscript that only needs heavy editing, not shredding.

Keep those fingers flying!


Your turn. Are you plotting your NaNo novel? Or flying blind? I’d love to hear!


2 thoughts on “Plotting Help for NaNoWriMo

  1. These are great ideas even if you are not doing NaNo. As a semi reformed pantser, I am trying really hard to be more of a planner.

    • BAD JOKE WARNING: You should join PA (Pantsers Anonymous). They have a twelve-step program, but it’s hard to follow since it’s out of order. 🙂 Okay, in all seriousness, there are a lot of high profile pantsers out there (like Stephen King), and they make it work. But since I don’t have his talent and story intuition, I’m stuck plotting… It seems to work for me.

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