In November, for many writers, meticulous plotting methods go out the window. It’s pantser all the way, if you’re a NaNoWriMo participant. The idea is to sit and write, write, write. Don’t let the words flow – let them gush (my word count is now 7747). No stopping to correct misspellings or consider, hmm, was that the right word choice? If in doubt, bold or highlight a suspect word or phrase so you can find it later. In December, after you’ve surpassed the 50k goal and are ready to revise.
Last month, I did a basic outline of where I thought I wanted my story to go. Not the same as plotting, which doesn’t allow much leeway if your characters decide to shanghai your story across a wild tangent you’d never have thought of until you were in the moment. For that very reason, I’m not a big believer in plotting.
But how, exactly, is plot defined?
In the article What is Plot, Anyway?, James Scott Bell defines plot as something that will take shape within a manuscript, with or without planning. Either way, the plot must move readers through the story. Bell provides an overview of his LOCK plotting system: Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.
Okay, but what, exactly, does plotting entail?
Linda Cowgill’s Plotting Along breaks plotting down into three basic steps: Arrangement of Events, Causality and Conflict - all of which lead to an emotional payoff for the reader.
According to Martha Alderson, Goals Define the Plot. Use both short-term and long-term goals to ground your readers along your protagonist’s journey.
Noah Lukeman, author of bestsellers such as The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens, provides a set of exercises in 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life to help you define your character, and thus determine which circumstances will provide the most impact for a reader based on that character’s weaknesses.
Once you have plotting down, David Freeman suggests Adding Emotional Depth to a Plot Via a Subplot. Using American Beauty as an example, he describes how having a subplot parallel to the main plot can add emotional depth to a story.
If you're not into charting out your plot in the Snowflake Method, (I don't have enough left brain to even comprehend it), try something more flexible: the index card system. This method at least allows you to shuffle the cards as needed when your characters take an unscheduled left turn.
If you're like me, however, and think plotting is akin to John Lennon's description of life - Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans - then start with a roughed-out story idea and just write.
If you need some guidance about pantsing it, check out Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! Chris, btw, happens to be the NaNoWriMo organizer.